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Can you use "pretty much" to say "yes"?

I asked: "Are you saying that these people are not miners and there are no mines in this region?"

I got the answer: "Pretty much"

I asked why "Pretty much", are there any nuances?

I was told that he liked to say "pretty much" and that it didn't necessarily mean "mostly" and that he used it as "yes".

When I asked the question again, he already answered yes.

So in this context, "pretty much" means "a solid yes"?

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    Clearly some people think that it means a solid "yes". I suspect most people would interpret it as a qualified "yes".
    – KillingTime
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 9:07
  • What's the difference between "mostly" and "qualified yes"? It's just that I know that "pretty much" means "mostly" but when I asked why "pretty much", I was told that "pretty much" was used as "yes". So that's a solid "yes"? Otherwise, it will mean "mostly".
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 9:18
  • When you consider sarcasm, condescension, etc, you can make even exact opposites mean a solid yes.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 11:44
  • Ignoring the 'That sums the situation up pretty if not totally accurately' sense, 'Pretty much' is either a hedged form (so one can later offer the defence "I never said definitely!") or perhaps a satirical, ironic, even sarcastic usage ("Oh, Tim! It's wonderful to hear your voice! Are you still alive after that eruption?" ... "Pretty much." / "Can you swim, Mr Spitz?" ... "Pretty much!") Which usage is intended may not be apparent. Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 15:00

3 Answers 3

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The general informal meaning of “pretty much” is “almost”. I doubt that, when used to give an affirmative answer, it may mean a solid yes!

pretty much or pretty well:

Pretty much or pretty well means ' almost'. [informal]

  • His new government looks pretty much like the old one. I travel pretty well every week.

(Collins Dictionary)

Wiktionary, however, suggests that unlike its synonyms, pretty much sometimes conveys a more affermative meaning,

Usage note:

Similar in meaning to more or less; however, pretty much sometimes implies a higher or more satisfactory degree of completeness.

(Wiktionary)

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  • It's just that when I asked why "pretty much" I was told that it was used as "yes". If it were used as "mostly" then there would be an explanation why "mostly". But I was told that "pretty much" was used as "yes" So in this case "pretty much" was used as a "solid yes"?
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 11:11
  • @Johnny - you could supply the original sentence where pretty much was used as an affirmative expression. Context is important. But I don’t think that’s a general accepted usage.
    – user 66974
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 11:15
  • I asked: "Are you saying that these people are not miners and there are no mines in this region?" I got the answer: "Pretty much" I asked why "Pretty much", are there any nuances? I was told that "pretty much" does not necessarily mean "mostly" and that he used it as "yes". So, in this context, "pretty much" means "a solid yes"? Because if the answer is "mostly" then there must be an explanation why "mostly"?
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 11:35
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So in this context, "pretty much" means "a solid yes"?

No.

"Pretty much" is used to indicate that the general circumstances are as stated and/or that the speaker is in general agreement or approves in a general way.

However, the nuance is that the speaker also believes or knows that there may be circumstances or context in which disagreement/disapproval would be possible.

See "pretty much, pretty well" in Collins Dictionary

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  • How about this: I was told that he like to say "pretty much" and that it didn't necessarily mean "mostly" and that he used it as "yes". When I asked the question again, he already answered yes. So in this context, "pretty much" means "a solid yes"? Because when I asked what the nuances were, he said that there were no nuances.
    – Johnny
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 12:23
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    @Johnny EL&U cannot be held responsible for speakers (even native speakers) who do not fully understand what they are saying and make basic errors. The alternative is that he still meant "pretty much", but had decided that explaining to you would take too long, and so he simply agreed with you.
    – user81561
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 12:40
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No, for the same reason you are distinguishing a "solid yes" from a "yes".

Your friend may use "pretty much" that way, but like you, others will also take it to mean a qualified yes.

A "solid yes" (or "definite yes") means there are no exceptions or qualifications. After someone says "yes", you may want to turn it into a solid yes by asking "Do I have your word?" (after you invite them) or "Are you sure? (after you ask about a fact)"

solid (adj.)

Dependable; reliable. Lexico

A simple "yes" is neutral about exceptions. We might assume there aren't any.

Pretty much / pretty much, yes qualifies the yes. It implies there are are exceptions or reasons the yes might turn into a no.

pretty much

Informal
Very nearly Lexico

If you say "She very nearly said yes" it means she didn't say yes, but said something very close or almost said yes.

A mother says "You can go to the party if all your school assignments are done and you aren't grounded again like you were last month" and her child says "My mom pretty much said yes" when a friend asks if she can go.

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