Posted by: Idioma Extra | February 1, 2012

Thursday’s Tidbit

Fairly, Quite, Rather and Pretty


Fairly generally modifies adjectives and adverbs. It does not suggest a very high degree. For example, if you say that somebody is fairly nice or fairly smart, he or she will not be very impressed.

A: How was the film?
B: Fairly good, but not the best one I’ve seen this year.
She speaks Portuguese fairly well, enough for everyday

Fairly goes before the adjective or adverb it is modifying.


Quite can modify adjectives, verbs and nouns. It is a bit more common in British English. It suggests a higher degree than fairly. Its usual placement is directly before the word it is modifying.

                A: How was the film?
B: Quite good. You should go see it.
She’s lived in Portugal for 5 years. She speaks Portuguese
quite well.
quite enjoyed myself at the party.

When quite modifies an adjective, it goes immediately before the adjective. But if a noun directly follows the adjective, you need to put between quite and the adjective. See below:

That book was quite difficult. I had trouble reading it.
That was quite a difficult book. It took me 4 months to
finish it.

Use after quite if you’re modifying just a noun.

                His room is quite a mess.


Rather is stronger than quite, but weaker than very. It can suggest ‘more than is usual,’ ‘more than was expected,’ ‘more than was wanted’ and similar ideas.  It can modify adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns.

The film was rather funny. I was surprised.
Everything in that movie happened rather quickly. I couldn’t
follow the story!
She rather likes gardening.

If rather is modifying a noun, use in between rather and the noun.

That book was rather a disappointment.

(*Remember that rather can also work as a verb with would, similar to the wordprefer: I would rather go to the beach than go to the mountains.)


Pretty is similar to rather, but only modifies adjectives and adverbs. It is informal and used far more frequently than “rather” in the United States.

A: How are things?
B: Pretty good. I can’t complain!
She’s a pretty nice girl.

The Importance of Intonation

Remember that a person’s intonation can greatly influence the exact meaning of these words. If you’re unsure, always ask!

Check Yourself!

Insert the words in parentheses in their correct position in the sentence. You may need to add another word (such as a).

  1. That art show was impressive. I can’t believe the talent of some of those artists! (pretty)
  2. We had a terrible time at the airport. Our plane was delayed twice!  (quite)
  3. Jack is intelligent. I wouldn’t trust him to build a plane, but he can get the job done. (fairly)
  4. I can’t believe the weather in December in Costa Rica! It’s chilly! (rather)

Answers from last week’s Check Yourself:

1. Does (was / flows) he see the bass (gas / face) in the lake?
2. Yesterday I read (feed / said) that Pearl Jam will be performing live (dive / forgive) in Costa Rica next month.
3. I saw a tear (near / where) in his eye when the dove (stove / love) flew into his head.
4. You should always close (dose / knows) your eyes and bow (grow / how) when in the presence of a king.
5. I need to read (bed / seed) the directions on how to wind (kind / thinned) my watch.
6. I drew a picture of a bass (gas / case) with a lead (feed / head) pencil.
7. Please close (knows / dose) the door so the wind (mind / sinned) doesn’t enter.
8. I dove (stove / love) into a lake that is near where I live (give / five).


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