"He doesn't quite know what to do."

I'd assumed that the sentence above means "He never has the least idea what to do" until I came across the website saying that "quite" here only modifies "know" and only makes the meaning less strong. So they translate the sentence into something like he kind of knows but isn't sure enough what to do.

I'm confused. There's a big difference between the two. Which does it mean? Thank you.

  • So, he doesn't have the slightest idea what to do, is that what you've just written?
    – nat 123
    May 4, 2021 at 17:11
  • Does "He doesn't really know" not imply "there's some part he knows"? I wanted to make sure the degree of NOT knowing by adding "quite".
    – nat 123
    May 5, 2021 at 0:40
  • I will not comment now as you seem dead set against understanding what I am trying to communicate to you...
    – Lambie
    May 5, 2021 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


It's probably easiest to think of quite as having a different meaning when used negatively.

He is quite ready for this task.

This means he's "very ready" for this task.

He is not quite ready for this task.

This means he's almost ready, but still has a small amount of additional work to do before becoming ready.

He doesn't quite know what to do

This mean's he almost knows what to do, but there's something small needed to "bridge the gap."

  • Does the degree vary according to the area you're living?
    – nat 123
    May 4, 2021 at 17:15
  • @nat123 "Quite" doesn't have anything to do with the area one lives unless that's part of something "quite" is modifying.
    – LawrenceC
    May 4, 2021 at 18:03
  • All right, so it just makes the meaning less definite as you said. Thank you.
    – nat 123
    May 4, 2021 at 18:30

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