I've not found a clear answer to my question below. Everything I found on the internet was too fuzzy and vague, so I hope this is not a duplicate.

In which way does the word "quite" in front of an adjective strengthen or weaken the corresponding adjective?

Some examples:

Consider: "I'm quite good at school."

Does this mean I am very good at school, or like "good, but also not one of the best students" or even only considerably good?

The same for this: "I can run quite fast."

I've read, that this means that I can run not very fast, and I've also read that it means that I can run "very very fast, but not like Usain Bolt".


If you've checked the dictionary you'll have seen that there are 2, somewhat contradictory definitions for "quite":

  1. to the utmost or most absolute extent or degree; absolutely; completely.
  2. to a certain or fairly significant extent or degree; fairly.

In short, "quite" can mean "very" or "not so much"!

In spoken English, we tend to put emphasis on the word when we are minimising something, and perhaps draw it out with a negative inflexion, for example:

-was the town busy?
-it was quite busy. (meaning it wasn't very busy)

Also, as a very general rule, we wouldn't use it to mean the highest degree unless we were using it with a strong word such as "excellent", "marvellous" or "terrible". With more moderate words like "good" or "bad", it tends to be added to understate. For example, "I can run quite fast" would probably mean reasonably fast; wheras "I can run quite rapidly!" sounds far more positive, and would likely be taken to mean very fast.


In modern type-written English we use italics, bold, underlining, "quote marks" etc to tweak the inferred meanings of words - "just that little bit of fine tuning".

In spoken English, we use volume, inflection - and modifier words - when we wish to tweak a word's meaning, ever so slightly.

Fairly, rather, quite and pretty are all degree modifiers. They are used to express the degree to which a certain quality is present. Fairly does not show a high degree of something, rather and quite do.

So quite emphasizes the word busy - not busy enough to be very busy, as Astralbee noted in that excellent answer, but more than just busy.



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