I’d better confess right away that I’m not a native American English speaker. If you could hear my accent, you’d spot in a jiffy that my native variety is British English. But stop, come back, because I can tell you about THE most important word to get your head around if you’re communicating with Americans. I know this because I’ve lived in the US for more than a decade now, and it’s still the word that I have to think about – every time.
Quite: It’s such a common word. Americans use it, Brits use it, and it’s the same word, right? Well no, not quite. Have a look at these sentences. Both Americans and Brits could say them all. But two of them mean different things, depending on whether an America or a Brit says them. Which ones?
1 This is quite interesting.
2 Quite fascinating, in fact.
3 I’m usually quite good at this kind of exercise.
4 But you’re quite correct. This is tricky.
One common meaning of quite in both varieties is ‘completely’. See 2 and 4 above. These two sentences mean the same in American and British English.
Fascinating and correct are both ungradable adjectives, so things are either fascinating/correct or not. There’s no half way about it. But there are other adjectives that are gradable, so for example, there can be different degrees of good or interesting. And that’s where things get complicated and quite means different things. See 1 and 3 above.
If your American boss says your work is quite good, should you be pleased or a little concerned? In British English quite good only means pretty good or fairly good, but in American English it’s much more positive. Quite good means very good, so you can give yourself a pat on the back.
And one last piece of advice for any American guys who are planning a first date with an English girl. Don’t be like one of my American friends and tell her you think she is quite pretty. He was lucky to get a second date.Email this Post