The word quite might seem quite easy. The learner of English usually first meets this word in its role of modifying an adjective or adverb.
For example, She is quite clever or He can play chess quite well. In such sentences quite has the meaning of fairly, to a certain extent, not very. So, for example, She is quite clever means that on the scale of 1 (not stupid but only very slightly clever) to 100 (an absolute genius), she would be rated somewhere between 60 to 70.
However - and this is what is confusing to the learner - quite can also be used to mean very, very or completely. Take for example the sentence She sings quite beautifully. This can mean She sings fairly beautifully (60), but it can also mean She sings very, very beautifully, (i.e. 90 or better on the rating scale)
The way the learner has to decide which of the two meanings of quite (60 or 95) apply in any given sentence is by listening carefully to the speaker's intonation. When the speaker wants to say that the girl sings very, very beautifully, he may slightly isolate and emphasize the word quite. She sings . quite . beautifully .
To learn more about the word quite and its uses, try answering the following questions.
1. What is the difference in meaning of the following two sentences?
- That's quite a car!
- That's quite a good car!
- That's quite a car! means That is a very good car ! (95)
- That's quite a good car! means That is a reasonably good car ! (60)
2. Explain the different meanings of quite in the next two sentences:
- That's quite a good idea.
- That's a quite perfect idea.
- That's quite a good idea . - Quite here can only mean fairly or rather.
- That's a quite wonderful idea . - Quite here can only mean completely or entirely. (Note the position of quite after the article.)
To understand the two meanings of quite in the above sentences, it is necessary to know the difference between gradable and non-gradable adjectives. A gradable adjective is one that allows a rating scale.
So for the adjectives good or happy, you can be at 1 (not sad but only very slightly happy) or 100 (completely and overwhelmingly ecstatic). A non-gradable adjective is one that exists only at the very top end of the scale, e.g. perfect (= cannot be bettered → 100) or famished (= extremely hungry → 95).
The word quite can be used together with a non-gradable adjective like perfect, exhausted only when the intention is to emphasize the strength of that adjective.
E.g. I was quite exhausted after walking in the mountains all day! can only mean I was very, very tired. It cannot mean I was rather tired or I was a little tired but not a lot. And You are quite right! can only mean You are completely right!
3. Explain the meanings of the following sentences:
- She is quite similar to me.
- She is quite different from me.
- She is quite similar to me. This means that she has some characteristics, interests, etc. which are the same as mine. (60)
- She is quite different from me. This means that she is totally, completely different from me. (100)
4. What does quite mean in the following dialogue?
- John: I think we need a holiday! - Mary: Quite!
John: I think we need a holiday! - Mary: Quite!
Quite here means You are absolutely right; I completely agree with you.
5. You can say She is quite clever, but can you also say She is quite cleverer than me?
- Quite cannot be used with comparative adjectives, so the sentence She is quite cleverer than me is not possible. You must use a different expression, e.g. She is rather cleverer (or somewhat cleverer) than me.
Ok, that's quite enough about quite!