Degree of Adverbs You Should Master Today

When complex usage rules discourage learners and teachers to keep going, it is high time to give Grammar teaching a human touch.  Embellish your comments with intensifiers (ie. degree adverbs pre-modifying gradable adjectives and adverbs). Explore varying emotions expressed by one type of intensifiers- the downtoners.  

Do you notice how English speakers casually use the words fairly, quite, rather, and pretty? These downtoners suggest varying meanings. Have fun using them in your own conversations. But first, learn to use them right.

1. Fairly. This downtoner does not suggest a very high degree. Use it when you are not so pleased or impressed by the quality of something or someone.

  • 'How was the movie?' 'It was fairly amusing. Not the funniest movie I've seen this year.'
  • 'How was your date with Tom?' 'Fairly pleasant. We went to an art museum.' 
  • She speaks English fairly well - enough to be understood by patient listeners.
  • 'I'm fairly incompetent. I can't play that fast.'
  • 'The speaker was scintillating!' gushed Donna.  'She's fairly clever,' I replied.

2. Quite. When quite is used as a downtoner (esp. in British English), it hints a higher degree than fairly

  • 'How was the wedding?' 'It was more interesting than it promised to be; quite dramatic, in fact.
  • 'How was your date with Tom?' 'Quite entertaining. He's got a bag full of jokes and sweet nothings.'
  • 'You are unlike anything I expected to see.' 'I'm considered quite unusual.'
  • You have a grand gift of silence, which makes you quite invaluable as a companion.
  • The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear.

3. Rather. If you think quite + adjective/adverbs is already strong, try using 'rather'. Rather has a higher degree than quite. It's commonly used by speakers who prefer British English. (Americans would normally use informal downtoners such as 'kind of' or 'sort of' instead of 'rather'.)

  • 'Come, there's no use to crying like that!' said Alice to herself, rather sharply.
  • I stopped sometimes to rest, for the climb was rather steep and tiresome.
  • We dropped into this adventure rather unexpectedly.
  • 'You are rather impolite to call us names, knowing that we cannot resent your insults.'
  • Alice glanced rather anxiously at the cook, to see if she meant to take the hint. 

4. Pretty. When unstressed, the word pretty acts as a downtoner modifying adjectives and adverbs. It is the strongest and most informal among above downtoners (eg. fairly, quite, and rather).

  • You look pretty healthy for one who needs to be watched all night. 
  • Cely found the ride home pretty tiring. 
  • She can kick pretty hard with her heels.
  • 'How's Uncle Harry?' 'He's pretty well.'
  • I find this book pretty tricky to read - and for good reason.

If you can master and maneuver these four downtoners fairly well, you'll sound more natural when you speak English.

Note: Downtoners are used in conversations and informal situations to put color and emotion to your speech.  It will be redundant if you fill your essay or research paper with intensifiers. Be prudent when using them in formal writing.

Designed by Neil Yamit