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According to my dictionary (Cambridge Advanced Learner's), the two most frequent meanings of the word "quite" are surprisingly opposing:

  1. a little or a lot but not completely
  2. completely

Although there is a row of examples for each of the meanings, in my understanding the following sample sentences would match both of the meanings above:

The two situations are quite different.

You've made your position quite clear.

She seemed quite chirpy this morning.

It would be quite a nuisance to write to everyone.

It was quite a difficult job.

She was quite affable at the meeting.

There's quite a collection of toothbrushes in the bathroom.

How can I resp. how would you decide which meaning is meant for each of the following sentences?

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  • quite means "to a considerable degree" or "to a significant degree" and it can mean "almost completely". It never means "completely". Jan 29, 2019 at 12:37
  • I've never known quite to mean a little, so I'm surprised by that first definition you provided. Jan 29, 2019 at 14:54
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo It depends on context: I am quite finished. In that sentence, it is synonymous with completely. (Look at the first sense of the word in the Merriam-Webster link in my previous comment.) Jan 29, 2019 at 14:56
  • I think finished there carries the sense of "completely" and quite is just an intensifier. Jan 29, 2019 at 15:13

2 Answers 2

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Quite can in fact mean a little bit or slightly, or it can mean very, or it can mean completely.

In any given phrase or sentence, it could mean either. There's some rules of thumb that might help, but usually you have to work it out from context.

For example, if it is used with an ostensibly absolute adjective, like dead, empty or exhausted, it usually means completely.

There's no chance of us finding out what he saw, I'm afraid. He's quite dead.

If it is doubled, usually either side of a comma, it usually means completely.

I'm quite, quite sure.

The special case of not quite means almost, which is a case of it meaning completely as well.

Wait, I'm not quite finished!

I can't think of any rules of thumb to be sure it is being used to mean very or slightly. If it's not clearly completely, then it might be very or slightly, and you have to judge from context, and from tone if it is spoken.

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Quite

Usually has the meaning of

to the utmost or most absolute extent or degree

Synonyms are

completely
fully
entirely
totally
wholly

In your example sentences

The two situations are quite different.
The two situations are very different.

You've made your position quite clear.
You've made your position completely clear.

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