Is it true that the word "rather" is always/usually used with negative emotional sense?

That is to say, "rather good" would be wrong, wouldn't it? And I should instead use "quite good", should I?

  • 1
    Just an example of "rather good" - it's the name of a comedy/production company from an earlier time in the history of the internet - rathergood.com/about-us – Mixolydian Feb 11 '19 at 21:37

"Rather good" is correct and fairly common in some (perhaps a little old-fashioned) British dialects.

It tends to be used as an ironic understatement to mean "very good".

I say! You must try this wine. It's rather good.

Rather has other uses: to express preferences, and to indicate agreement (again dated British use). I can't think of any situation where it has a specifically negative emotional sense.


The word "rather" is not always used negatively. Saying something is "rather good" is synonymous with saying it is "quite good".

This site gives a good summary of how the word can be used: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rather

Specifically, note that using it as "in some degree" gives a similar connotation to the following word, whereas using it as "to the contrary" would give a connotation opposite to the following word.


No. Not in any usage that I'm familiar with, in fact.


Is a slightly dated British English interjection indicating emphatic agreement.

I'd rather have the red, thanks.

An indication of preference.

That's really rather good.

Indicates that it is, indeed, good. In fact, while it literally means similar to "fairly", it tends to be used as ironic understatement.

  • What does ironic understatement mean? Do you mean to say people tend to use it to reverse the meaning of what follows and in effect say "not really" (e.g., it's rather good = "it's not really that good", or "it's good but it's not that good")? – user3395 Feb 12 '19 at 12:33
  • Ironic understatement is to express something in a way that literally means it is "only slightly" good/bad/tasty/deadly/whatever, but to mean that it is "very" whatever. The difficulty is that some words are primarily used for ironic understatement, but some are sometimes used literally and sometimes ironically. – SamBC Feb 12 '19 at 12:41
  • Are you saying rather good literally means "only slightly good" (in the answer you say it literally means "fairly good")? Perhaps etymologically or somehow, then leveraging irony to achieve the resultant meaning? I'm sorry, I don't understand the first sentence in your comment ("it is to express something in a way that literally means it's only slightly X, but to mean it's very X") – did you intend but to to mean "only to"? – user3395 Feb 12 '19 at 14:29
  • The "but" could be read as "but actually"; it's a very normal way of saying it where I come from. – SamBC Feb 12 '19 at 14:35

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