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I'm a bit confused about this. They both sound correct to me.

  • Quite rather weird
  • Rather quite weird

Which of the two is correct?

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Someone from the U.K. should answer this one. I think both expressions would be rather quite (quite rather?) weird in American English. –  Peter Shor Dec 4 '11 at 22:28
@Peter: Why should we have to do your dirty work for you? It's just as weird in British English. Well, okay, let's not beat about the bush - it's bad English, and neither are correct. –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 22:38
They are? Have heard them being used though. Mystery solved then. You can add it as an answer. –  Simon Verbeke Dec 4 '11 at 22:40
If you live & work in Belgium, I suppose it's possible you hear these constructions from non-native speakers. Googling "rather quite" finds this very question on the first page of results, so it's obviously not exactly commonplace anywhere else. Maybe someone with a firmer grip on grammatical terminology will explain why you can't/shouldn't chain together multiple intensifiers like rather, quite, pretty, fairly, somewhat, etc. –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 23:16
...although thinking about it, I can't see why a great big [something] is any different, and that's quite okay. If you don't mind profanity, a fucking great big [whatever] is also fine (the f-word there is just acting as another intensifier). –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 23:29
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Rather quite sounds much better to me (American English speaker) than quite rather, but they both sound strange.

In fact, there seems to be a whole class of adverbs like this - rather, quite, somewhat, fairly - which you can't stack on top of one another. Not sure what to call this phenomenon, but all combinations of the above sound wrong to me: somewhat quite weird, rather fairly weird, fairly somewhat weird, etc.

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Well, Brett has posted NGram links showing that the words rather quite can occur consecutively in perfectly grammatical sentences, so perhaps that's why it seems less bothersome. But they not related to this context, because they're not using "rather" in the same sense. But here's what I would consider a valid use of quite definitely somewhat, so it might be hard to define the limits of acceptability even if we knew what the phenomenon was called. But +1 for noting the more general class of words involved. –  FumbleFingers Dec 5 '11 at 23:43
Interesting. Presumably, quite definitely somewhat is fine because definitely isn't in the class, and since definitely is the head of the adverb phrase quite definitely, that phrase acts just like a normal adverb, not like quite, and has no problem stacking on top of somewhat. –  alcas Dec 6 '11 at 0:35
I think profanities are often in a class of their own, but bloody, for example, seems to at least partly in the class, in that it can function almost identically to very (which seems to me to be a bona fide member). But whereas you can be quite bloody angry, you can't be quite very angry. It is indeed strange how exactly we know what we can and can't say, despite being completely unable to explain (or even name) the principles we're being guided by. –  FumbleFingers Dec 6 '11 at 0:47
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Although both strike me as odd, and both are very infrequent, quite rather is less common that rather quite. See http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=rather+quite%2C+quite+rather&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

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How exactly should I interprete the percentages? Does this mean they are both correct to use? –  Simon Verbeke Dec 4 '11 at 23:05
To interpret the percentages, add a comma and a phrase that you feel would be a useful comparator. In this case, as I said, both are very rare despite both being common words. In fact, I think they're rare enough that most people would find them odd. –  Brett Reynolds Dec 4 '11 at 23:09
Also, be aware that many of those hits in the graph are mentions and not uses (e.g., Fairly, Rather, Quite All these adverbs occur in the sense of "to a certain extent."). –  Brett Reynolds Dec 4 '11 at 23:12
I don't think that NGram is relevant. Leafing through a few dozen, I didn't find a single one mirroring OP's usage, not would I expect to. –  FumbleFingers Dec 4 '11 at 23:24
"In effect, John preaches a messianism that is neither otherworldly nor apolitical, as traditionally conceived, but rather quite worldly and political, not however along the lines of political liberation but rather of martyrdom" from Women, the family, and policy: a global perspective - Page 270 –  Brett Reynolds Dec 4 '11 at 23:38
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I can’t imagine anyone saying Quite rather . . . , but Rather quite . . .? Possibly.

A. I didn’t think much of that.

B. Oh, I don’t know. I thought it was rather quite good.

As I said, possibly.

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B. only seems "plausible" because it's using "rather" to mean "on the contrary", rather than as a somewhat half-hearted intensifier. I think strictly speaking my own use there does the same, except it's part of a compound "rather than" which paraphrases to "as opposed to". But OP seems to be thinking of contexts where he wants to use both "rather" and "quite" as consecutive intensifiers. –  FumbleFingers Dec 5 '11 at 23:27
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I think this combination sounds weird to most people because it's a contradictory pairing. Rather usually means somewhat, to a certain extent, while quite means completely, wholly or entirely.

So can you call something somewhat entirely weird? Or entirely somewhat weird? Or entirely weird to a certain extent?

I suppose you could, if you're looking for a somewhat entirely ironic take on the weirdness of a thing.

To me, it sounds better to diminish slightly the intensified weirdness by saying rather quite weird instead of the other way around. I don't think this is a general rule, however.

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I don't think "contradictory pairing" really gets to the heart of the matter, because you still can't chain this class of "intensifying" adverbs even if they mean the same. That much seems pretty fairly obvious to me, even if I can't say exactly why. –  FumbleFingers Dec 5 '11 at 23:49
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They both sound rather weird to me, but it's possible neither is quite incorrect. (Of course, I'm an American, and a reply by a Brit might be more helpful, as Peter noted).

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