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Here are the examples of adjectival intensification:

  1. It's quite cold here in March.

  2. It's pretty cold here in March.

  3. It's fairly cold here in March.

  4. It's rather cold here in March.

To me, their meaning seems altogether the same—It's cold to a slight or medium degree, a little more or a bit less— but I doubt about the exact sameness.

Also, I once came across the "nice/good and + adjective" construction, where nice and good seem to intensify the adjective. So, I'm adding one more example:

  1. It's nice/good and dry here in July.

To make the question topical for this site, I should explain that it was brought up during one of the numerous wide-ranging discussions on the subtleties of the English language I had a few days ago with an acquaintance of mine. Then, he claimed that all intensifiers, even those in my examples, can be ranked by their strength, and backing his point, he mentioned a book on adjective intensification he had come across when he studied the English Language at the University in Kazan, Russia in the early 2000s.

After a painstaking search, I came across a link to a book which is unavailable in the place I live in. When I sent the link to the man, he said that the book's title seems familiar to him, but he's not sure.

So, my question is:

Is it true that the intensifiers in the examples can be ranked by their strength? If it is true, what might be their descending order? If there's no rule for this, is there a customary usage order? Is the last example really proper usage?

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, Nathan Tuggy, Catija, ColleenV, JavaLatte Jun 6 '16 at 5:38

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In order

kind of
fairly (least)
pretty
rather
quite (most, especially in BrE)
extremely

Context and intonation will also add to the severity of expression.
There will be some grey area crossover between "pretty" and "rather", and depending on context they may be interchangeable.

"Quite" kind of stands alone in your severity list.

When considering the ranking based on attractiveness

fairly pretty
pretty
rather pretty
quite pretty

the ordering becomes more obvious

  • This seems to be the answer to the question, but could you name the source, please? Or is it just the customary usage? – Rompey Jun 6 '16 at 10:38
  • It's from usage, what makes it a bit clearer is your inclusion of "pretty". If instead you had used "somewhat" or "kind of" (both less than or equal to "fairly") or "extraordinarily" or "very" (both closer to "quite" and "rather") it might change things. – Peter Jun 6 '16 at 22:07
  • Thanks for the tip. With what you already wrote, for me, it makes the answer complete. – Rompey Jun 6 '16 at 22:56
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It's good and dry is idiomatic in many rural parts of the United States. This usage is informal, but not as informal as slang. To my (American) ear, this usage of "good and" does sound like an intensifier.

It's nice and dry is also grammatically correct. To my ear, this usage of "nice and" sounds more like using a second adjective (connected by a conjunction) than an intensifier.

In other words, "It's good and dry here in July" implies that the soil is parched by the end of the month (unless you irrigate). Whereas, "It's nice and dry here in July" means "It's nice here in July, partly because it is dry here in July".

  • 2
    In England "nice and adjective" is well-established, and it is a sort of intensifier: I would paraphrase it as "nicely adjective", i.e. it has a connotation of approval as well as intensity. – Colin Fine Jun 5 '16 at 22:11
  • Thanks for the answer and for the comment. Part of the question is answered. – Rompey Jun 5 '16 at 22:18

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