Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there any logic to this or just decision? I would use the following combinations:

  • quite amazing
  • rather large
  • pretty good

I would not use the following combinations:

  • pretty amazing
  • quite large
  • rather good

There're also the words pretty and fairly and of course we say "pretty good" instead of quite good/rather good. Is there any grammar rule that states which word to select to give strength to an adjective without depending on the adjective for no appearant reason?

share|improve this question
4  
I would use any of those with the decision being quite arbitrary. (or perhaps rather arbitrary) None of them sound incorrect. –  Davy8 Aug 25 '11 at 20:10
    
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think "quite amazing" is an oxymoron; something can't be "mildly greatly surprising."

There is another issue here: Quite can mean both totally and mildly. So in your example "quite amazing" would be better expressed as "mildly surprising" or awesome.

For example:

My aunt is quite mad. [Is she a little bit eccentric or totally insane?]

Either way in the case of "quite amazing" both meanings: "totally greatly surprising" and "mildly greatly surprising" make no sense.

share|improve this answer
    
You're right... Still the term "quite amazing" is established or do you disagree? –  909 Niklas Aug 27 '11 at 4:13
add comment

Ok, I will take a crack at this:

  • quite is good for expressing mild suprise at the extent/size: "I was quite pleased by the reception I received there."

  • rather is a more posh version of quite.

  • pretty, on the other hand, is to express faint enthusiasm: "I had a pretty good time, I might go there again sometime."

  • fairly is even a bit less enthusiastic than pretty.

Each can be used, more or less ironically, for the opposite effect, though.

share|improve this answer
2  
Pretty doesn't have to be disparaging, and AFAIK, usually isn't. It just connotes slight lack of enthusiasm, or, depending on the tone of voice, and context, it could mean very (e.g. the wind blew pretty hard today). –  Daniel Aug 25 '11 at 20:24
    
Thanks, @DRⱮ65 Δ, "disparaging" is too strong...will edit that. However, its primary meaning as an adverb (this is from M-W) is "moderately". So, with my "ironically for opposite effect" disclaimer/squish clause, I'll stand by that. –  JeffSahol Aug 25 '11 at 20:53
1  
I wouldn't say the wind is blowing pretty hard is ironic. And that usage seems common enough; worth mentioning. –  Daniel Aug 25 '11 at 21:28
    
Exactly it sounds right to me too to say "pretty good", "quite amazing" and "rather large" compared to other combinations –  909 Niklas Aug 26 '11 at 10:50
    
Just because London-based Sloanies were stereotyped as being inclined to exclaim "Rather!" where us peasants would say "Yes, please!" hardly justifies claiming that rather is a "posh" version of "quite". The upper classes are also stereotyped as saying "Quite so" where the rest of us say "Yes indeed". –  FumbleFingers Aug 26 '11 at 15:47
show 3 more comments

Some of them have differences of strengths, for instance, if something were described as "pretty large" or "fairly large" I would interpret as less large than something described as "quite large" or "rather large".

"Rather" sometimes has a slight connotation of unexpected, so if something was somewhat larger than expected I would prefer to use "rather large" than the others.

These preferences may vary from region to region and even person to person though.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Strunk & White's rather delicious little subtlety:

Rather, very, little, pretty – these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are all pretty sure to violate it now and then

share|improve this answer
    
Subtlety? About as subtle as a kick in the teeth! One would hardly need to set scanners to maximum to notice that they somewhat disapprove of such words - unless it's to cast aspersions on the rather small manhoods of those who use them in non-size-related contexts. –  FumbleFingers Aug 26 '11 at 1:41
add comment

One could grow weary of pointing out that English doesn't actually have many "rules", and that it would be better in most cases to call potential candidates for that term "strong tendencies", since they're often not universally applicable.

OP himself may be exceptionally consistent in using rather rather than quite large, but that's really just his preference. Though if this NGram means anything, it suggests average usage is tipping the other way. He's more in the mainstream with quite amazing, but this one backs up my own gut feeling that pretty soon pretty amazing will rule that particular roost.

In certain contexts, these kind of qualifiers can all have their own special nuances, but it would be a mistake to infer any consistent rule regarding which to use when. Nor is there any consistent hierarchy of "intensity" for rather, quite, pretty, very, etc. Many Brits, for example, would say that in some contexts, somewhat is far more intense than any of those. Any many (younger?) people use totally in ways that imply it's far less intense.

share|improve this answer
    
The NGrams were very interesting. I wonder why it's changing. –  909 Niklas Sep 1 '11 at 13:33
    
@Niklas R: Probably lots of reasons - plus pure happenstance, of course. I think young people rarely use pretty to mean attractive nowadays, so maybe that one is more "freed up" for use as an intensifier. Plus I don't hear younger people say astonishing much, so this trend accords with my own gut feeling of the way things are moving. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 15:31
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.