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Rather, Quite and So

Rather, Quite and So
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from a reader.


I often confuse the meaning of the words “rather,” “quite” and “so.” Thank you, dear teacher.


Dear Reader,

The words you asked about are a special kind of adverb called “intensifiers.” These words make a statement about something a little stronger. Let us look at some examples.

It was rather hot yesterday – that’s why I went for a swim.

You will look quite attractive in this shirt.

We are so excited about going to see the movie!

Note that the words come before an adjective. They give more force to the adjective. It is difficult to say how much force these words add to an adjective because their use can change from one person to another and from one area to another. Speakers of British English use “quite” and “rather” differently than speakers of American English.


I would like to say a few more words about the adverb “so.” As an English teacher, it bothered me when I began to hear people using “so” more often to add force to their statements, as in these examples.

She was so happy.

This math homework is so hard.

My traditional grammar guides told me that this kind of statement should include “that” and another expression, as in these examples:

She was so happy that she jumped up and down.

This math homework is so hard that I needed to ask for help.

But last year, my coworker John Russell wrote about “so” in Everyday Grammar. He explained that in the past 20 years, its use as an intensifier has increased. Grammar experts at Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary still say it is an “informal” use of the word.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

confusev. to mistakenly think that one person or thing is another person or thing : to mistake (one person or thing) for another

bother – v. to cause (someone) to feel troubled, worried, or concerned

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