I am wondering if the following sentence reflects a correct usage of pretentious:

She put on a pretentious happy face.

The definition of pretentious says "adjective attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed"

I do not know if pretentious can be used as compound adjective.

What other features can etc. include in the definition of pretentious?

  • No; 'false' works better here. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 21 '18 at 22:51
  • @EdwinAshworth But whether one uses "false" or "pretentious", doesn't it need to be "falsely happy face" or "pretentiously happy face"? – WS2 Feb 21 '18 at 23:14
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    @WS2 Why don't you check usage with a Google search? 'Falsely happy face' would use the adjective-modifier (traditionally, adverb) 'falsely', whereas 'false happy face' would use 'false' to modify the noun phrase 'happy face'. Some examples include a comma, which I'd not say was appropriate. 'Happy face' may not be as unitary as 'fake diamond', but you wouldn't dream of using 'largely fake diamond'. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '18 at 0:59
  • @EdwinAshworth Wouldn't that depend on whether "large" was qualifying "diamond" or "fake"? Diamond is perhaps not a good example because I'm not sure that one can be partly fake and partly genuine. But say the noun is "story". "A large fake story" is a different thing to "a largely fake story". – WS2 Feb 22 '18 at 12:35
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    I wouldn't use it, full stop. What does 'pretentiously clever' mean? 'Pretentious' refers to a person, and I don't see 'pretentiously' as being natural modifying an adjective. But 'pretentious' and 'clever' could individually modify 'lawyer'. Using them together would be like referring to a 'vicious expensive dog'. Some descriptors don't stack naturally. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '18 at 20:56

I think it is an incorrect usage. Without context, it is hard to be sure what the writer intended. Perhaps they thought pretentious was similar in meaning to pretend? If so, maybe counterfeit would be a better adjective?


At its simplest her self-awareness can be conveyed by saying 'she put on a happy face.'

A If she was happy, and also thought she had some status to maintain, then 'pretentious happy face' is good.
You are saying that her face expressed both genuine happiness and pretentious aspiration.

B If she believed it was important to show that she was happy, even if she was actually worried or miserable, because she had to maintain her status, then she might 'put on a pretentiously happy face.'
In that case, everyone could see that her appearance of happiness was all a charade to boost her social importance.

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