Sunday, March 08, 2009

How Words Are Used

Dear all,

There's been some recent debate about vocabulary, in particular the exact meaning of the word "quite". The question was raised by Gianfranco of level 4B.

I answered this query on the TagBoard, and promised you some further information. And here it is, in the form of the Virtual Language Centre, Hong Kong. This Centre has a useful facility, known as a Concordancer.

The Concordancer can show you examples of any word you choose, displayed down the centre of a computer screen, in the middle of the sentence which contains the word. So you can see, from the context, how the word is used, and you can draw deductions about its meaning.

The Concordancer does this by searching very large texts held on the web site's database. Here's an example with our word "quite". I queried the Virtual Language Centre Concordancer and got 342 examples. The first ones I saw were "quite" as a quantifying expression:

2 gains are tax-free, which gives you quite a saving" The Massana valle
3 at the main countries in Europe and quite a significant number in Asia-Pacif
4 . {para} ``In the United States for quite a few years people would drive up a
5 to ride over there. He has told me quite a bit about the place.'' {para} Muc
8 ror and I profoundly feared evil. Quite a few children had died of meningitis

In these examples, "quite a" means a significant number or quantity: "quite a bit" = "a significant amount", in this case, of information.

Here is an example of "quite" meaning "completely":

46 nnot be doubted, it is nevertheless quite absurd that the HFL should allow i

"Absurd" is an adjective that does not allow for gradation: something is either absurd or it isn't, so you can't say "very absurd", for instance.

And here we have "quite" meaning "to a significant degree":

118 ntinued. {para} He said it would be quite difficult to prevent such incidents

I would say that "quite" in this sense is stronger than "moderately" and not as strong as "very" when associated with "difficult".

Now try it for yourself. Go to the Virtual Language Centre and, below where it says "Research and Reference", and "Web Concordancer", type in "quite". See what other examples and uses of "quite" you can find.

And do please tell the rest of us what you have found in a message to the TagBoard or, if your message is more than a few words, in a comment below this posting.

Later this week: a "Six Minute English" comprehension exercise, plus updates and changes to this Blog.
- Mike

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