"Pretty" versus "quite"

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Is there any difference between using pretty, and quite, in the following sentences?

I am pretty good at playing soccer.

I am quite good at playing soccer.

How are you?
I am quite well.

How are you?
I am pretty well.

The reason I am asking is that, in Italian, the translation of pretty, and quite, are respectively piuttosto, and abbastanza, which have very similar meanings.

kiamlaluno

Posted 2013-02-06T16:02:08.193

Reputation: 20 456

Question was closed 2016-04-20T08:14:03.373

1My take is that "quite" is more often used by speakers of BrE and "pretty" by speakers of AmE. Both words are ambiguous; ie, they don't represent specific grades that everyone would agree on. Even terms like "a couple of people" and "a few people" might mean the same small number (2-4 perhaps), depending on the speaker. More important for "pretty" and "quite" might be the stress used by the speaker. I don't think I'd ever stress "pretty" in "I'm pretty well", and if I stressed "quite" in "quite well", I might be expressing anger or a "none of your business" attitude. – None – 2013-02-06T16:21:21.977

2Disagree on pretty being not used in British English. It's pretty common to use it over here :) – Matt – 2013-02-06T18:43:01.680

This question makes me think of the fictional establishment "Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery Store" in the American radio show "Prairie Home Companion". It's certainly not an upscale establishment, but in its place, it's adequate. Quite usually implies something more upscale. – barbara beeton – 2013-02-06T20:31:13.520

@Bill Franke: Your US/UK division is absolutely correct - as that chart shows, pretty and quite are pretty much equally common in the Google Books UK corpus, whereas Americans favour pretty by a factor of over 4:1. But of course, affordances vary, and I couldn't have replaced pretty much with quite much there. Also don't forget the "typical British understatement" factor, whereby quite good often means not very good at all, actually.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-02-06T23:23:27.173

Answers

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Pretty is "to a moderately high degree; fairly", whereas quite can have two meanings: "to the utmost or most absolute extent or degree; absolutely; completely" or "to a certain or fairly significant extent or degree; fairly: ". So they may be synonymous; sometimes may be not.

In each of the contexts you have cited, whenever you would use "quite" it can mean either "more" than "pretty" or equal to "pretty". So use the words wisely as per context

Mistu4u

Posted 2013-02-06T16:02:08.193

Reputation: 6 269

The definition of quite in ODO has 2 meanings. You only address one. Quite can be synonymous with pretty because they can both mean fairly. – Matt Ellen – 2013-02-06T16:17:52.847

@MattEllen, Hm good catch! Going to edit it. – Mistu4u – 2013-02-06T16:18:49.170

Good answer. I suspect (but haven't tried to establish with certainty) that the long-established quite = completely/extremely meaning is standard in both UK and US usage. I'm pretty certain the more modern quite = somewhat sense is far more common in the UK than the US. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-02-06T23:38:09.047

Macmillan Dictionary online quite agrees. – None – 2013-02-07T01:12:53.383

1

It's funny that English is not technically a tonal language when so much of our speech depends largely on tone.

Quite means what you think it does. It basically means very. For all intents and purposes as a learner, you can think of it as a synonym for very or really.

Pretty, however, depends on the tone of the speaker. In general it's like a medium version of very, however, it can also mean not very.

I know that sounds completely nonsensical, that it can mean two things that are total opposites, but you will almost always know the difference when you hear it. Example:

Hey Nick! How are you?
Pretty good....I guess...


Is the job finished?
Pretty finished, yeah.

When said this way, you'll hear some doubt or hesitation in the speaker's voice, as if they're lying to you and not trying to hide it, and you will understand that what they're saying on the surface is alluding to something else underneath.

This usage is exclusive to spoken language and dialogue.

temporary_user_name

Posted 2013-02-06T16:02:08.193

Reputation: 851

2-1: In the vast majority of contexts where quite means very/extremely, it's dated/archaic, or at least, somewhat formal. OP's quite good would normally be taken to mean fairly/somewhat. And whereas you can be quite finished (absolutely finished, in the dated sense), you wouldn't normally use either word when you mean *almost finished*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-02-06T23:32:57.513

I disagree on all counts, my apologies. – temporary_user_name – 2013-02-06T23:47:02.370

1Words like rather, quite, pretty, fairly are all vague, and there's no consistency among native speakers when asked to "rank" them in order of intensity. So all I can do is vote according to my own perceptions of what I normally hear and say. But of course I'm British, which will sometimes make a difference. Whatever - I stand by my comment (except I should have said *I wouldn't normally use either word*, rather than *you*, obviously! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-02-07T00:07:56.977

I agree with @FumbleFingers about the vagueness & lack of agreement about both words & disagree that "quite" always means "very" & only "pretty" can be ambiguous: the facts of usage don't bear that out, not even in mid-20th century working-class New Jersey speech. – None – 2013-02-07T01:07:00.847

@Bill: Are you quite sure you don't detect a hint of "datedness" about this question? It seems to me younger (more modern) speakers are far more likely to use really in such contexts. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-02-07T02:08:57.793

@FumbleFingers: Yes, it does seem pretty dated, as do most of the traditional EFL materials used around the world. The up-to-date stuff is just as bad, really really bad, I'd go so far as to say. That's why I always recommend that EFL students listen to how their daily interlocutors speak and imitate them instead of their textbooks and the ubiquitous trash on CDs, DVDs, the radio, and TV ESL/EFL programs. – None – 2013-02-07T02:26:25.150