Word choice and usage: I'm always curious about the the usage of intensifiers, such as very, quite, rather, pretty, extremely, etc.. I also remember my teacher told there was a turn of tone when using these words and some of them had a passive emotion several years ago. In these days, I see a website (https://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/Quite_rather_and_pretty_The_differences_between_Br_44738.aspx). I become thoroughly disordered. So, I want to know the distinction between these intensifiers, and where and when I should use them. Does they have a positive or negative emotion.

  • Unfortunately (for those learning the language), such intensifiers are not rigidly defined, but can have subtly (or sometimes substantially) different meanings depending on context and "tone of voice". Who is speaking also is a factor. (A certain POTUS seems to apply entirely different meanings to many words.) – Hot Licks Mar 17 '17 at 16:51

Since the words have strong similarities, we will find the differences in their connotations more than in their denotations (definitions or synonyms).

Let's first put these handy adjectives in order of intensity as commonly used. Note that all are neutral terms with the context conveying any positive or negative tone, as I hear them in the US.

Mildest to strongest: rather, pretty, quite, very, extremely

Rather is used as a mild, vague, and casual term: "It's rather good" means it is vaguely more than good, to some undefined degree. Say I want to compliment you but not be too personal: Your jacket is rather nice says that I am not overdoing my attentions.

Pretty is used as a vague, but stronger, casual term: "It's pretty good" means it is vaguely more than good, to a strong but undefined degree. Say I want to compliment you with a friendly remark: Your jacket is pretty nice says that I think you are dressed just right.

Quite is used as a strong but vague term in any setting: "It's quite good" means it is definitely more than good, to an undefined degree. Say I want to compliment you with a firm remark: Your jacket is quite nice says that I think your jacket is the right choice and better than just nice.

Very is used as a distinct term in any setting: "It's very good" means it is 'B+,' more than good, to a powerful and hard-to-beat degree. Say I want to compliment you with a decisive remark: Your jacket is very nice says that I can hardly find a better choice for you than that one.

Extremely is used as an intense term in any setting: "It's extremely good" means it is as good as it can get with nothing better. Say I want to compliment you with the most decisive remark: Your jacket is extremely nice says that I cannot find a better choice for you than that one.

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    Are these for Us English, UK English or another variety? I suspect that makes a difference, indeed that was rather the point of the article that Ethan was confused by. In my part of the English speaking world, Scotland, if you described someone's jacket to their face as 'quite nice' they would probably be offended at your damning with faint praise because here 'quite nice' would be taken to mean 'only 'quite' nice, which is less than 'very nice' and possibly less than an unqualified 'nice'. Of course, all of that is dependent on tone and context.. – Spagirl Mar 17 '17 at 15:58
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    @Spagirl I'm not sure about the Scots usage but in England saying rather nice with the right sort of falling cadence conveys serious admiration! I think the OP's opened a can of worms with this question. – BoldBen Mar 18 '17 at 7:57

I quite disagree with the ranking of quite and very in the accepted answer. The basic meaning of quite is "totally or completely". Merriam Webster lists its meanings as:

1 : wholly, completely not quite finished

2 : to an extreme : positively quite sure —often used as an intensifier with a, quite a swell guy quite a beauty

3 : to a considerable extent : rather quite near.

The Oxford On-Line Dictionary has a similar definition:

1 To the utmost or most absolute extent or degree; absolutely; completely.

1.1 US Very; really (used as an intensifier)

2 To a certain or fairly significant extent or degree; fairly.

Because we are just dealing with nuance rather than meaning, I would add that very is so overused that often it doesn't intensify to a (very) great degree.

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