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I was told that "so much" is more emphatic than "quite so much", but I am not sure. Could you explain the difference between the following pairs of sentences?

  • Don't put so much emphasis on that sentence.
    Don't put quite so much emphasis on that sentence.

  • He figured if he had a rubbing of Grace's tombstone in his collection, maybe it wouldn't feel quite so much like she was gone forever.
    He figured if he had a rubbing of Grace's tombstone in his collection, maybe it wouldn't feel so much like she was gone forever.

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    so much is too much, quite so munch: tone it down little
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 16:57

2 Answers 2

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Quite is a versatile word. In speech, it can mean either a lot or a little, depending on how it’s pronounced. ‘I quite like it’ indicates some reserve, but ‘I quite like it’ indicates enthusiasm.

In your examples, quite has a softening effect on so much. ‘Don't put quite so much emphasis on that sentence’ invites the listener to reduce the emphasis by just a little. Similarly, the use of quite in ‘maybe it wouldn't feel quite so much like she was gone forever’ suggests that the feeling of loss might be tempered rather more than would be the case without it.

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    I quite agree..
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 17:16
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All of the sentences in the OQ contain overt negatives, and in addition they're all comparative; and comparative constructions are Negative triggers, as is overt negation. So this is a very strong negative field, and strange things can happen.

In general, if there's a question about something grammatically odd, and negation keeps turning up naturally in the example sentences, you want to suspect the negation first, before ascribing anything to some other chunk.

In a negative field, quite so X has a special sense, similar to very and other intensifiers. All of the following mean that he's not bright; the intensifiers are just there to intensify the irony (irony itself is a negative phenomenon).

  • He's not so bright.
  • He's not so very bright.
  • He's not very bright.

Quite in a negative field means 'almost', in the sense that if we're not quite there, then we're almost there. It intensifies the smallness of the amount left. In a comparison like quite so much, the quite also emphasizes the smallness of the degree of difference. But it's not a grammatical phenomenon; it's semantic, due to the negation.

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