Here is a quote from Peter Benchley’s Jaws: “That’s a pretty shitty trick.”

I would like to know how common this expression is in English, and under what circumstances/instances is used. (That is, what exactly it means and what ironic degree do we have here).

I know that “pretty” can be used ironically, but to me as a non native, it sounds pretty odd.

So, would you please explain it in detail so that I can get a better understanding?


In this quote pretty is an informal intensifier meaning "very". It strengthens the following adjective, shitty, which is an informal and rude word with a negative meaning, here expressing that Harry's trick was reprehensible.

I don't think any irony is involved here.

  • Thank you so much, so, it’s rudeness not irony! Duly noted! – Lucian Sava Apr 10 '14 at 7:59
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    I think OP was confused because some dictionaries list "pretty" being used ironically: See sense 2. I think you should make a distinction between ironic pretty and adverbial pretty as an addendum. – Helix Quar Apr 10 '14 at 8:01
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    @LucianSava "pretty" is not rude in itself - it's the "shitty" here that is rude! One can say, for example, "That was a pretty good movie". It's a soft intensifier - it wasn't a great movie, but it was better than good! – nxx Apr 10 '14 at 13:57

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