Business Writing Tip #94—Let’s Talk About Quite and Rather

These two little words can cause problems for non-native English speakers, so I thought it was time to take a look at how we usually use them. ‘Quite’ and ‘rather’ are degree modifiers. We use them to express the degree to which a certain quality is present.


‘Quite’ is more than ‘a little’ but less than ‘very’.

  • It’s quite important that we reach a decision soon, or we won’t have time to implement it before the next review. (It’s not essential that we reach a decision … but it would be good.)

We can also use ‘quite’ with some verbs.

  • I quite like the new campaign that the marketing department has come up with.

It sometimes means ‘completely’ when it’s used with some adjectives—for example, in the expressions:Tip 94 graphic

  • Quite sure
  • Quite right
  • Quite true
  • Quite clear
  • Quite certain
  • Quite wrong
  • Quite safe
  • Quite obvious
  • Quite unnecessary
  • Quite impossible

And ‘not quite’ is ‘not completely’.

  • They haven’t quite finished the new building yet so we won’t move offices until next month.


‘Rather’ is a word that is similar to ‘quite’ but which we use mainly with negative verbs and ideas.

  • It will be rather difficult to get everyone’s agreement on this new proposal because it will mean a lot of extra work for people and they are already very busy.

When we use it with positive words it means ‘surprisingly’ or ‘unusually’.

  • These proposals from the sales department are rather interesting.

Both ‘quite’ and ‘rather’ can be used before nouns.

  • The offices are in quite an old building and we need to consider relocating.
  • It’s a rather expensive proposition.

‘Rather’ is quite flexible and can go before or after ‘a’ or ‘an’.

  • A rather expensive proposition
  • Rather an expensive proposition


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