Ask the Editor
Archive
Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
Pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite
Thursday May 30th 2013
Question
Pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite
Answer

Question

What is the difference between pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite? How are these words used? – Anna, Indonesia

 

Answer

Pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite are placed directly in front of adjectives or adverbs to add to their meaning. Often they make the meaning of the adverb or adjective stronger, or more intense. For this reason, these words are called intensifiers

However, some intensifiers weaken the meaning of the adjective or adverb that they modify. In the descriptions below, the intensifiers mentioned above are presented in order of their strength, from strongest to weakest. 

 

Really, very, and extremely

Really and very are strong. When one of these words is placed in front of an adjective or adverb, it makes the meaning of that adjective or adverb more intense, more powerful, as in the examples shown. The meaning of really and very is similar to the meaning of another intensifier: extremely.  

  • She did very well on the test. (=she didn't simply do well, she did extremely well)
  • The water is really cold. (=the water isn't just cold, it's extremely cold)

 

Quite 

When quite is placed in front of an adjective or adverb, it adds strength, but not as much strength as really or very. One way to think of quite is that it tells you that the degree of intensity is noticeable and more than expected. 

  • The entertainment was quite good. (=the entertainment was noticeably good, perhaps better than expected)  
  • Blue jays are quite common in this area. (=blue jays are noticeably common, more common than you might expect.)


Fairly, pretty, and somewhat

Fairly and pretty weaken the adverbs or adjectives that they modify. They tell you that the quality described by the adverb or adjective is present, but only to a limited extent, as shown in the examples below. The meaning of fairly and pretty is similar to the meaning of another intensifier: somewhat.  

  • It’s a fairly common disease. (=It’s not common, but it’s not rare, either. It’s somewhat common.)
  • The movie was pretty good but not great. (=The movie wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either. It was okay.)
  • I have to leave pretty soon. (=I don’t have to leave right now, but I can’t stay for a long time.)

 

Caution: Although these intensifiers are common in spoken and informal English, in written English, their use is often discouraged. Many writers and writing teachers feel that using words like really, very, and pretty weakens your writing and that writers should find other ways to communicate intensity. 

 

Archive