According to Cambridge Dictionary, fairly means "more than average, but less than very" while "quite" means "completely".

I totally understand the definition of them, though I don't understand the "QUITE" tag in the definition of "fairly".

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What does that mean?

1 Answer 1


This is indeed confusing, because the word itself has two contradictory meanings. If you scroll through the entire entry for quite, you will find them both:

B1. completely

A2. [UK] a little or a lot but not completely ([US] usually fairly, pretty)

Likewise, to consult their rivals at Oxford: quite

  1. (British English) (not used with a negative) to some degree
    synonym fairly, pretty
  1. to the greatest possible degree
    synonym completely, absolutely, entirely

In the Cambridge entry, they use quite to indicate the broad sense of to a moderately high level as opposed to its other, unrelated meaning of in a fair manner, or as they put it, in the right way. Under the entry from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary further down, they say to some degree instead of quite for this sense.

In American English, quite is quite strong; if my girlfriend is quite angry then she's very angry, maybe even extremely angry. In British and Australian usage, she might merely be reasonably angry or kind of angry. Unfortunately, beyond that you can only infer which sense is intended from context; there are no simple clues.

  • it used to be common in British upper-class speech to use "quite" in the sense of "completely, absolutely, entirely", in situations where there is no doubt of the meaning (before an absolute adjective not normally modified), so that a girl might be quite beautiful, a party quite wonderful, a pianist's playing quite extraordinary, etc. The same people might also say, using the other meaning, that an egg sandwich was quite good, or a train journey quite long. Jul 23, 2020 at 16:58
  • @MichaelHarvey Is this a case where aristocratic understatement gets in the way of interpretation? I notice the same divergence with rather, whose Cambridge entries are equally maddening: quite; to a slight degree but then very; to a large degree.
    – choster
    Jul 23, 2020 at 17:55
  • I think the 'posh' usage is dying out, if it hasn't gone altogether. Jul 23, 2020 at 18:03

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