« Holiday | Main | Etymology »

Quite

I think "quite" is quite a confusing word for Japanese learners of English. This is, for one thing, due to the traditional way of teaching the meaning at school. This word is generally taught at high school and the definition given there is almost always "mattaku" only. Mattaku means "completely, perfectly." Thus, students take "quite good" as "perfectly good." Look up the word in an any given English-Japanese dictionary, and you'll find "mattaku" as the first definition. Students tend to not "read" dictionaries, so they blindly believe it is the meaning. So do most Japanese teachers of English, I guess.

What makes "quite" even more confusing is that the word has significantly different meanings depending on the word it modifies and also there seem to be regional differences in connotations the word makes. It's quite right to say "You're quite wrong" for the meaning of "completely wrong." Right? Then, what about "Your blog is quite good"? Will you be glad to hear that?

....."Quite" is quite a word.

Comments

I saw this a couple of years ago, and I knew that I could find it again. Enjoy:

(From : http://www.freemaninstitute.com/english.htm )

Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?


The sad thing is I have problems with a lot of them. :-)

Quite a nice post Kiyo. I quite like reading your insights into Japanese and English. I find that with quite a lot of your posts I am able to understand the nuances between the languages that otherwise I wouldn't quite comprehend.

tatroyer--
that's a great list (the complete article is quite good as well)...reminds me of Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue", a book I've mentioned on Kiyo's comments before and which I quite highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the English language.

Sometimes I think English is what comes from living on a little island.

MNW

Quite so.

"Quite" is an intensifier, like "very", so it can be used to say something is "very good" or "very bad". To my American ear, "quite" sounds British, archaic, or literary. I think it is more like "zenzen" (completely) than "mattaku" (completely, perfectly).

In slightly different situations, "quite" means inexact (like "goro" maybe?). "I don't quite know. I don't exactly know. I don't precisely know." These expressions all sound very British to me. It is often replaced by "really", "I don't quite know, I'm not quite sure." sound British; "I don't really know, I'm not really sure." sound American. If I had started this sentence "In quite different situations..." I'd mean "really different" or "completely different" (zenzen chigau) rather than (chotto chigau).

Another example, and much more confusing, is when these two senses of the word are combined. "Quite a lot of people" means "many people", exactly how many, I'm not sure. Not only does it sound conversational, but it expresses surprise or amazement, a sense that there were more people there than expected.

However, "quite a few people" means more than a few, rather than less than a few. I suspect that this is an error of sloppy speech that has slipped into common usage. It's the addition of the little article "a" that changes the meaning. If you were to say "Our reasons for staying were quite few." it would still mean very few. But if you said "We had quite a few reasons for leaving" you'd mean "many reasons", but it would sound softer, less direct.

Now that I think of it, Most people I know bronounce many of these homophones slightly differently, just enough that using emphasis on the wrong syllable can cause confusion.

And they say that English is an monosyllabic language :p Apperently they have never met the one math teacher at my school.

Quite a few nice comments. I'm grateful! Hm? Why "full of grate" means thankful?

I think English is a language of flexibility and vitality, which is why I may be into the language.

Thanks for the great list, tatroyer. Glad I didn't read it in high school. ;)

Not full of grate...full of gratitude. It's from the Latin, gratia, meaning influence or favor. "Gratias referre" is "to give thanks". Thus, Spanish "por favor" (please) and "gracias" (thank you) and English "gratitude" and "gracious" (pleasing) and even "grace" (to give thanks unto the Lord).

Latin roots are the kanji of English. Do you know what I mean?

Yes, I quite understand what you mean, M. That's why today's entry ...

"Quite" is one of those words where the interpretation depends on how it's stressed. If it isn't stressed at all (in comparison to its object), it probably means "fairly" (as in "fairly good"). If it's clipped, it probably means "perfectly". If it's lengthened, it probably means "not very". All of the above can be modified for effect, if one can make certain assumptions about the listener. This is all quite hard to determine in a written context, and definitely open to misinterpretation.