grammatical word: pretty

Today, I’d like to write about the word “pretty”, but not the adjective. This way of using “pretty” is put in front of other adjectives or adverbs, as in “pretty good” or “pretty quickly”. Many of my students think this is the same as “very”, but it’s not. The word “pretty” indicates that something is slightly weaker than the regular adjective or adverb. Therefore, the scale is: very good -> good -> pretty good. Let me give you some examples:

The movie was pretty good, but it could have been better.

A: Can you run fast?

B: Well, I can run pretty fast, although I was much faster when I was younger.

The color my wife chose to paint our house is pretty nice, but I would have preferred a darker color.

A: Is living downtown expensive?

B: Well, it can be pretty expensive, but some things don’t cost so much.

When we use “pretty” in this way, we usually stress “pretty” with our voices.

However, “pretty” can also be used in another way that means something is equal to or slightly stronger than the adjective or adverb. In these cases, we usually stress the adjective or adverb itself with our voices. When we use “pretty” in this way, it often indicates that we were surprised by what we experienced. For example:

I heard Tony play the piano the other day, and he was actually pretty good.

I know I look weak, but I’m actually pretty strong.

It can get pretty loud in this neighborhood because there are a lot of kids living around here.

A: I ran into my ex-girlfriend when I was on a date with my new girlfriend.

B: That must have been pretty uncomfortable.

A: It was!

So, as I said before, the word “pretty” in these cases is much stronger than in the first set of examples.  However, it’s still not as strong as using “very” or “really”.



  1. Chie Said:

    I didn’t know “pretty good” could be weaker than “good”. 😮

    So, “pretty good” is always weaker than “very good” or “really good”, even if I say “pretty GOOD”, right?

    Since English speakers could distinguish the phrase with pretty is weaker or stronger than an adjective or adverb, I wonder that I should avoid to write “pretty good”. Do you think it is stronger than good if you see “Your Japanese is pretty good.” as my comment?

    • Yes, “pretty good” is always weaker than “very good”.

      I think saying someone’s Japanese is “pretty good” is never much of a compliment even if you emphasize “good”. I would recommend saying “good” or “very good”, and then it’s a compliment.

      • Chie Said:

        Thank you for your quick reply. 🙂
        I think most Japanese don’t know much about “pretty”. I feel English has a lot of tricky words. 😉

      • I agree with you! It’s a tricky language!

  2. Yasuko Said:

    I think ” pretty ” and ” quite ” are used the same way in this case. Sometimes ” quite ” is used slightly weaker and other times used slightly stronger like ” pretty ” in examples you gave here. And also many Japanese misunderstand that ” quite ” is stronger than an adjective or adverb. I heard the way of using ” quite ” is different between American English and British English.

    • I don’t think there is any difference in the meaning of “quite” between British and American English, but I think “quite” is more commonly used in British English and “pretty” is more commonly used in American English.

  3. Daniel Duarte Said:

    Oh, I didn’t know about this meaning too. So, pretty means something like “should or could be better (good or very good) but is pretty good (it’s ok). Does make sense?

    Thank you Mike,


    • Hi Daniel.

      I don’t really follow what you’re trying to say, but “pretty good” means it’s good but could be better if we stress the word “pretty”. If we stress the word “good”, it means that it’s good but often in a surprising way.

      I hope that answers your question.


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