As long as -- seemingly -- the adverb "quite" in AmEng idiomatically carries an emphatic sense to it -- pretty much similar to saying "completely" or "absolutely" as in, "That girl looks quite pretty!" -- what adverb (or phrase, or grammatical construction) would Americans typically use -- in speech and writing -- that would coincide most with the chiefly BrEng meaning of "quite" [=to a noticeable or a partial degree]?






Would they more likely say something like:

  • That girl looks somewhat pretty.

  • That girl looks rather pretty.

  • That girl looks fairly pretty.

  • That girl looks not too [...].

  • That girl looks pretty to some degree (or extent, or point).


Or, would they rather use a "-ly" ending adverb and say:

  • That girl looks moderately pretty.

  • That girl looks passably pretty.

  • That girl looks partially pretty.


In informal contexts, would they more likely say something like:

  • That girl looks sort of/kind of (sorta/kinda) pretty.

  • That girl looks some pretty.

  • That girl doesn't look too [...].


Consider the phrase, "That girl looks...pretty" merely as an example. The adverb (or phrase, or construction" should also work with other examples of BrEng "quite", e.g. "I'm quite well".

  • 1
    You've chosen the adjective cunningly! Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 19:26
  • 2
    Americans also use quite in the British sense. It can be quite confusing. (Although I believe in speech you can usually distinguish the two senses by the stress pattern.) Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 19:27
  • 2
    British English has both the above senses ((1) [to the fullest degree/extent] you're quite right; quite the opposite. (2) (not used with a negative) to a noticeable or partial extent; somewhat: she's quite pretty.) Collins. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 19:43
  • @PeterShor I agree with you for spoken contexts, but how about in writing? As you said quite correctly, it can sometimes be quite confusing to the reader, especially when there's no apparent punctuation to make the meaning of a sentence clear. Actually, I'm looking for an adverb somewhat less formal than "somewhat", but a bit more than "pretty". Plus, it should coincide fairly well with the sense to "quite".
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 19:55
  • EdwinAshworthm I was aware of that distinction in BrE for "quite right", "quite the opposite". That's what I was taught in school. But I thought the "to a partial extent" sense to "quite" was pretty much more BrE than AmE. Plus, I've always been taught that "pretty" was "a tad" more colloquial than "quite" or "rather" for instance, but not as informal as "kind of" and "sort of".
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:28

4 Answers 4


As nobody has picked up on it, I'll post as an answer.

Perhaps the most commonly used secondary modifier meaning 'quite/fairly' in US English is pretty. But it doesn't work here for obvious reasons. (Well, one obvious reason.)

  • But isn't "pretty" a bit more informal than "quite", esp. for written contexts? Also, does it coincide fairly well with the sense that is carried by "quite"? I thought that saying "I'm pretty well" sat somewhere between "BrE" "quite" and "very"
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:05
  • 1
    Yes, but you did ask for 'in speech' as well as 'in writing'. And notice that there are differences between 'to a noticeable degree' and 'to a partial degree': even 'this sense' has conflicting meanings. There's a difference between 'quite' in ..'Does she have a chance of the modelling job?' ..'I think so – she's quite pretty, you know' and ..'Do you think she'll get the modelling job?' ..'Well, she's quite pretty, but no Helen of Troy'. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:15
  • Well, I meant an adverb or the like that can fit for spoken and written contexts. Regarding "to a noticeable or partial degree; somewhat" it's the definition to "quite" I found in the CD online dictionary.reference.com/browse/quite
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:40
  • For instance, would "pretty" work in AmE for all but the most formal prose, like business writing?
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:48
  • NG: 'pretty' is more informal. So not for newspapers or 'educated' speech. Also note a common way to say this is 'real' as in "That girl is real pretty".
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:17

Like you say, in AmE, quite beautiful is more akin to very beautiful.

By the way, we do use the phrase not quite, meaning something akin to not in a noticeable or measurable amount.

But using the examples from the Cambridge Dictionaries Online (which are similar to yours), I can give some more common ways we would express the same meaning of a little or a lot but not completely:

  1. I'm quite tired but I can certainly walk a little further.
    (replacing quite): very, a little, a bit, somewhat, (vernacular) sort of, kind of

  2. There was quite a lot of traffic today but yesterday was even busier.
    (replacing quite a lot of): a lot of, quite a bit of, some,

  3. It was quite a difficult job.
    (replacing quite a): a very, somewhat of a, a bit of a

  4. He's quite attractive but not what I'd call gorgeous.
    (replacing quite): very, somewhat, (vernacular) really, sort of, kind of

  5. It would be quite a nuisance to write to everyone.
    (replacing quite a): a big, somewhat of a, a minor, a small

These suggestions don't constitute a comprehensive list, but the point is the in AmE, I wouldn't often hear or see a predetereminer that is as nonspecific as quite appears to be (as in a little or a lot but not completely, per the Cambridge Dictionaries Online definition).

Quite often, in many cases like these, the adjective predeterminer wouldn't be used at all.

  • It's not a predeterminer. Traditionalists lump these things in the adverb catch-all; they are nowadays often called 'degree modifiers', but this isn't logical for ones with semantic content (frighteningly realistic). The term 'secondary [pre-]modifiers' (of (a) adjectives, (b) adverbs) may catch on. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 22:17
  • @EdwinAshworth It's like everything I learned about English in the last two hours is wrong (head explodes!). Where can I find some good background on that? Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 22:22
  • The Wikipedia article on English Determiners is a good start. You can look up various articles on 'degree modifiers'. Here is quite a demanding article; here is a previous article. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 22:55

The obvious answer is 'quite'. It can be and is used in exactly the same manner in AmE as BrE

  • 1
    It's not so obvious to me, and I am an American. Could you explain? Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:34
  • There is no difference in usage of the word quite between BrE and AmE in this context. I don't even know if it is less common, but that isn't what he asked.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 20:36
  • They are utterly different, not even close. It's one of the clearest differences I can think of it yank versus pommie english.
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 7:51
  • As an American, I've got to disagree that "quite pretty" would generally be understood to mean "somewhat pretty".
    – Patrick87
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 18:07
  • And I have heard BrE users to use 'quite pretty' to mean 'very pretty'. So what?
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 18:12

Excellent answer Edwin, I agree with you "pretty _ _ _" is the closest.

A fundamental problem here is that British humour is quirky, confusing, and self-mocking whereas AmE humour is matey, straightforward and plainsong. In the UK you can use just-slightly-archaic words (like quite) and there can be a shade of communication that you're using one of those old-fashioned British terms. (Note too that "Quite." is used on it's own as a figure of speech, meaning "I agree with you, and we're both terribly British" :) )

Also, note...


The example, " _ _ _ pretty" is very confusing, because, there IS NO common modifier for that word in AmE.

You never say, in colloquial AmE, "a bit pretty" or similar. (The only one I can think of is "Damn' pretty!" in some situations.)

(Indeed, it might be that the reason there is no modifier for "pretty" (attractive) is that the usual colloquial modifier in the US, is, indeed, "pretty!")

I definitely agree with Edwin, pretty is "the translation of" quite. Good one.

Pretty good.

Quite good.

That's the closest you're ever gonna get in the very subtle differences between AmE and BrE.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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