I know the meaning of the word quite and how to use it in most of the cases. Yet, when it comes to negatives I am in a state of uncertainty. For example:

  1. I’m not quite right.


  1. I’m completely wrong.

Are they equivalent? Do they mean exactly the same thing? I don’t think so.
I’d say that 1. implies that I’m wrong but not completely while 2. leaves no room for any rightness, but I’m not sure if I’m getting it right.

The dictionaries don’t explain about its usage with negatives, they simply say in definition #2 and #4: (not used with a negative)

However, I have tried to use with a negative: Ngram viewer and it returned a lot of hits which I don’t know to interpret.

Would you enlighten me please?

3 Answers 3


If you are "quite wrong" about something, you are very wrong (dead wrong) about it.

He was "quite sick" means he was very ill.

To say "I'm quite content" means, "I'm very satisfied with how things are going".

In those senses, "quite" is an emphatic.

But if you are "not quite right" about something, you are not entirely correct about it, although there may be some truth in what you have said or in what you think.

If there's something "not quite right" about a piece of pie, say, it has a slightly bad taste or a weird texture, perhaps. It is difficult to say exactly what is wrong with it. Maybe there was some dish soap residue on the pie pan.

In those senses, "not quite" qualifies the assertion, that is, it limits it in some way or makes it less emphatic.


"Quite" is a confusing word - it has several distinct meanings, some of which contradict.

You're right that definition #2 can't be used with a negative. For reference, that's this one:

2. (not used with a negative) to a noticeable or partial extent; somewhat: she's quite pretty.

That implies that if we are using "quite" with a negative, as in your first example, we must be using a different definition. In this case, it's #1:

1. to the greatest extent; completely or absolutely: you're quite right; quite the opposite.

So, to conclude: your first example means "I'm not completely right" - in other words, "I'm mostly right, but not entirely". That's very different from your second example, "I'm completely wrong" - so no, they're not equivalent, and in fact they're not far off being complete opposites!


They are not exactly equivalent.

Your interpretation is correct. While I'm not quite right leaves some margin for one being right, I'm completely wrong denies any such possibility outright.

In short, yes, quite quantifies negative qualities just as it quantifies positive ones.

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