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Below is a paragraph in my English textbook:

Andrea - There are six of us in our family, my parents, me, the twins and my older brother, Ted. Ted is a good ten years older than me and the twins – they are girls – are two years younger than me. We had a good childhood out in the countryside. My parents were always busy with the farm and so we didn't get the help with school work and things like that that children get today. But my parents were very loving, especially my father. I regret not helping more around the farm because now I realise that it must have been very hard for my parents, especially as my grandparents lived so far away.

Source: http://sinhngu.com/f_view.asp?CID=1908&QID=17677

The Oxford Dictionary says the word 'good' in this case means

5.1 Used to emphasize that a number is at least as great as one claims.
‘they're a good twenty years younger’

The Longman Dictionary also gives the similar meaning:

a good three miles/ten years etc
at least three miles, ten years etc, and probably more
He’s a good ten years younger than her.

However, I feel it quite strange. Because if Ted is a person who Andrea hasn't known yet, then she can guess he is at least ten years older than her (by looking at his appearance or his photograph). In the passage above, Ted is her older brother, then Andrea must know exactly how old Ted is. He must be ten years older than her. It cannot be less than or more than 10 years (8, 9, 11 or 12 years). That's why I feel it quite strange when I understand the meaning of that sentence: '...Ted is at least and probably more ten years older than me...'

Could you kindly tell me whether I have understood that sentence correctly?

  • 1
    "Good" can have the "at least" meaning, but it can also be used as a kind of emphasis meaning the amount has importance (and the precision of the value is unimportant). That's the gist of Peter's answer. Another example: you're low on gas on a long desolate highway and debating whether to fill up at a gas station you're about to pass. If someone points out that it's "a good 50 miles" to the next station, the precise distance isn't the point. The point being made is that it's a long distance (50ish miles), and running out of gas would be serious. – fixer1234 May 29 '17 at 6:26
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She is not saying

Ted is a good ten years older than me

because she doesn't know how old he is, she is saying this to show the spread in ages within her family and emphasizing that Ted is much older than she is, and she is closer in age to the twins.

By saying this, one might expect that Ted would be in a different stage of life while growing up than the speaker is. If you know of families where there is a large ge gap between the kids, you will know what I am referring to.

  • Does 'ge gap' means 'generation gap'? And I'm quite confused about what you said 'she doesn't know how old he is'. Ted is Andrea's older brother, how cannot she know his age? – doquan0 May 29 '17 at 5:49
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    @doquan0, you missed a complexity in the sentence due to the block quote in the middle. Read it as it isn't that she doesn't know how old he is, she is saying it for another reason. – fixer1234 May 29 '17 at 6:08
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Using "good" with measurements is not necessarily an indication of equal to or greater. Often it's just used for emphasis.

I live so far out from a city that I have to drive a good hour just to get to a grocery story.

In the above sentence it doesn't matter whether the drive is exactly an hour or more than an hour. The point is that it's a long drive.

It's the same in your example. Andrea is perfectly aware how old her brother is, so with the use of "good" she emphasizes the difference in their ages.

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The question already includes references so I guess what the questioner is looking for is experiences and opinion. In my experience "a good" is used to indicate a some uncertainty about the exact value but that it is probably bigger thant he given number and even if it isn't bigger, it isn't much smaller. And if it is bigger it's still a good guess. E.g. "a good 20 miles" is probably between 19 and 25 miles, and most likely closer to 21 miles. "At least 20 miles" on the other hand is equal to or greater than 20 miles, but it could be a lot greater.

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I want to add on to Andrew's answer above by adding an antonym suggestion as well, for comparison.

Ted is a good ten years older than me.

In the above sentence, a good suggests that the amount should be interpreted as significant. It is essentially the opposite of just in the sentence below:

Ted is just ten years older than me.

In each case they suggest an importance of the value: a good suggests that one should interpret the amount given as significant. By contrast, just suggests that one should consider the amount given as insignificant.

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