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"Quite" is probably the most ambiguous word in the English language. Merriam-Webster defines it three ways:

1: completely, wholly, totally (quite mistaken)

2: to an extreme : positively (quite drunk)

3: to a considerable extent : pretty, rather (quite near, quite ill quite rich)

So if someone tells you someone else is "quite drunk", how do you know this person is: a) completely drunk? b) very drunk? c) pretty drunk?

Or how about "quite difficult?" Does it mean rather difficult? Or extremely difficult?

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  • What other word gives a more precise measure of drunkenness? There isn't a sliding scale to it.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:37
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    Thanks, @EdwinAshworth. I'd say the questions are QUITE similar. :-D
    – Louel
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:50

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I would say that, given the definitions you provided, there is no clear-cut way by which you can determine the intended meaning. At least not based on the lexis itself. I think paralinguistic features, such as tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and social context would give an idea of the exact use of "quite". For example, if you say "He was quite drunk", sounding a little hesitant or unsure, than it likely means "a little". If you emphasise it, expressing it as "Wow, he was really quite drunk", perhaps raising your eyebrows or widening your eyes a little, it almost certainly means he was in a less-than stable condition! I think the context will always provide you with a fairly clear idea of intended meaning.

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