fairly = a bit??

meijin

Senior Member
Japanese
Hi, when I was reading explanations about 'fairly' in my Collins English Usage for Learners, I found something odd. Below is what the book says (underlined by me).

Fairly also means 'to quite a large degree'.

WARNING: You do not use fairly in front of a comparative form. You do not say, for example, 'The train is fairly quicker than the bus'. In conversation, you say 'The train is a bit quicker than the bus.'

In writing, you use rather or somewhat.


When I read the statement "In conversation, you say 'The train is a bit quicker than the bus'", I thought "What!?", and checked the word "bit" in my Cobuild for Advanced Learner's English Dictionary, which says, "A bit means to a small extent or degree", which is the same as my understanding of the phrase.

If 'fairly' means 'to quite a large degree' and 'a bit' means 'to a small extent or degree", why should 'a bit' be used instead of 'fairly'? The "In writing, you use rather or somewhat" part also seems inappropriate. Wouldn't BE speakers use 'rather' in speech and say 'The train is rather quicker than the bus'? How about 'The train is quite quicker than the bus'? Sounds unidiomatic because you would avoid using the similar sounding words side by side (quite and quick)? Then how about 'The train is pretty quicker than the bus?'

My question is this. What adverb do you native English speakers (not just BE speakers) use instead of 'fairly' in the example sentence 'The train is fairly quicker than the bus' without changing the degree?
 
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  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    It is impossible to answer this because none of us would start from thinking "The train is fairly quicker than the bus" - since, as your guide advises, we don't say that!

    We start from deciding what we want to say about the transport and there are two/three options:
    The train is a bit quicker than the bus.
    The train is a lot quicker than the bus.
    The train is very much quicker than the bus

    You do have the option of saying this: The train is much quicker or very much quicker!!

    Fairly does not come into this context.

    Contexts where I might use fairly to mean "to quite a larger degree" are:
    It's fairly typical of him to be late.
    I am fairly certain I got this right.
    She left fairly early this morning.

    I see one dictionary says it means "to a degree but not as much as VERY". You could sub "very" into all of my three new examples - so if you know how to use VERY you can see how to use fairly in new sentences of your own.
     
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    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Contexts where I might use fairly to mean "to quite a larger degree" are:
    It's fairly typical of him to be late.
    I am fairly certain I got this right.
    She left fairly early this morning.
    Let me put it this way. Would you say "She left fairly early this morning" is the same (or almost the same) as "She left a bit early this morning"? If no, that's the reason I found the explanation in the Collins book odd. And you have actually gave me the right expression that I think matches "'to quite a large degree". It's "The train is a lot/much quicker than the bus". If the Collins book had used "a lot/much quicker" instead of "a bit quicker", I wouldn't have started the thread. :)
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Let me put it this way. Would you say "She left fairly early this morning" is the same (or almost the same) as "She left a bit early this morning"? If no, that's the reason I found the explanation in the Collins book odd. And you have actually gave me the right expression that I think matches "'to quite a large degree". It's "The train is a lot/much quicker than the bus". If the Collins book had used "a lot/much quicker" instead of "a bit quicker", I wouldn't have started the thread. :)
    I agree I would not say she left a bit early this morning. The scale (in increasing levels of earliness) is:
    she left quite early
    she left fairly early
    she left very early
    she left at the crack of sparrow fart .... :D

    I suppose the problem is, it is fairly hard to give a few examples in a text book that adequately cover all the uses of common words.

    The original quicker thing is a a comparison so not quite the same as the examples I have given. A "bit quicker" is possible but not as quick as "much quicker" - and as I said - it is impossible to gloss "fairly quicker" because we just do not say / think that.
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks Suzi. Allow me to clarify my points. :)

    I'm not asking why 'fairly' cannot be used in front of a comparative form. I'm OK that 'fairly quicker' doesn't work. I was just surprised that the dictionary used 'a bit quicker' (instead of 'a lot/much quicker') as an alternative because 'a bit', in my dictionary, is similar to 'slightly' in terms of degree. In the Grammar section of the Collins English Usage book I have in my electronic dictionary, the following adverbs are arranged from 'very low degree' to 'very high degree':

    1. little
    2. a bit, a little, slightly
    3. rather, fairly, quite, somewhat, sufficiently, adequately, moderately, pretty
    4. significantly, noticeably
    5. very much, a lot, a great deal, really, heavily, greatly, strongly, considerably, extensively, badly, dearly, deeply, hard, soundly, well
    6. remarkably, enormously, intensely, profoundly, immensely, tremendously, hugely, severely, radically, drastically


    You can see why I tried to use 'rather', 'quite' or 'pretty' as a substitute for 'fairly' in the original post. The problem for me (and other Japanese English learners as well, I believe) is that in Japanese there are two commonly used adverbs that sit in between #2 and #5, and I thought in English you would use 'fairly' (in both AmE and BE) and 'quite' (in BE) for them (I know that in AmE 'quite' is the same as 'very', so it belongs to #5). Although the above list shows both 'very much' and 'a lot' in #5, my interpretation of 'a lot' (and 'much', not 'very much'), when it's used before a comparative form, is the same as yours, meaning that 'a lot quicker' is somewhere in between 'a bit quicker' and 'very much quicker'.

    The train is a bit quicker than the bus.
    The train is a lot quicker than the bus.
    The train is very much quicker than the bus

    So, these are the reasons I found 'The train is a bit quicker than the bus' odd and would have found ''The train is a lot/much quicker than the bus' appropriate as a substitute for the wrong expression 'The train is fairly quicker than the bus'.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I cannot really follow all of your points now. :(

    Sorry if what I've said so far has not clarified it.
    I think the short answer is that fairly is NOT a fixed point and maybe it can be used in different ways in different contexts.
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Sorry Suzi. Maybe this will clarify what I want to know. In writing, "The train is somewhat quicker than the bus" would be correct (because the dictionary in the original post says "In writing, you use rather or somewhat"). What adverb would you use if you were to say the same sentence in a conversation? Would you say "The train is a bit quicker than the bus"? I think "a bit" and "somewhat" aren't the same in meaning.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Sorry Suzi. Maybe this will clarify what I want to know. In writing, "The train is somewhat quicker than the bus" would be correct (because the dictionary in the original post says "In writing, you use rather or somewhat"). What adverb would you use if you were to say the same sentence in a conversation? Would you say "The train is a bit quicker than the bus"? I think "a bit" and "somewhat" aren't the same in meaning.
    I think they are close enough in meaning. I am struggling to think when I would use "somewhat", personally I much prefer to say "a bit" in all sorts of contexts, including writing. It may seem a bit informal to some poeple, but even "writing" covers a large spectrum of types.

    If I was talking to a mate about what form of transport to take I probably wouldn't modify it at all .. I'd just say the train is quicker than the bus. "Quicker, cleaner but quite a lot dearer".
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks Suzi. I see. So, "somewhat quicker" is close to "a bit quicker". I thought it was somewhere in between "a bit quicker" (or "a little quicker" or "slightly quicker") and "(very) much quicker". If it took 2 hours to arrive at the destination by bus and took 1 and half hours to get there by train (including the time to travel to the train station, I guess), it would be neither "a bit quicker" or "very much quicker" for me. I might even hesitate saying "a lot/much quicker".
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Thanks Suzi. I see. So, "somewhat quicker" is close to "a bit quicker". I thought it was somewhere in between "a bit quicker" (or "a little quicker" or "slightly quicker") and "(very) much quicker". If it took 2 hours to arrive at the destination by bus and took 1 and half hours to get there by train (including the time to travel to the train station, I guess), it would be neither "a bit quicker" or "very much quicker" for me. I might even hesitate saying "a lot/much quicker".
    I think these terms are all relative. Relative to the context being discussed, relative to your expectation, relative to shared values .. lots of things make these terms a lot more fluid than, say numerical values would be!
     

    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thanks Suzi. I know this is really difficult to understand for native English speakers, but allow me to make another attempt. I'm confident this is the best example I've created in this thread. :)

    1. This building is a bit old.
    2. This building is fairly/pretty/quite old.
    3. This building is very old.

    I think the above three are all idiomatic (in BE), and #2 is neither "a bit" or "very". It's somewhere in between them. It's like a middle degree (My ODE says "Fairly means to quite a large degree. For example, if you say that something is fairly old, you mean that it is old but not very old.").


    Next, let's use a comparative form.

    1. This building is a bit older than that one. :tick:
    2. This building is fairly/pretty/quite older than that one. :cross: --> (According to my Collins English Usage for Learners book) This building is a bit older than that one. :eek:
    3. This building is very older than that one. :cross: --> This building is very much older than that one.

    Hopefully you now see why I had to start this thread, whose title is "fairly = a bit??". :)
    I thought "Where has the middle degree gone??" when I saw the Collins book's statement in the original post. Then, when I saw your reply (in post #2), I thought, "Ah, 'a lot quicker' is good. It's more than 'a bit quicker' and less than 'very much quicker', but then why is the book saying "In conversation, you say 'The train is a bit quicker than the bus.'"? It's just this statement that confused me.
     
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    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    WARNING: You do not use fairly in front of a comparative form. You do not say, for example, 'The train is fairly quicker than the bus'. In conversation, you say 'The train is a bit quicker than the bus.
    The quote above does not say that "a bit" has exactly the same meaning as "fairly", even though much of this thread talks about that claim. The quote above says that it is normal in conversation to say "A is a bit quicker than B." Then it says that in writing (in BE) you can say "somewhat" or "rather".

    Perhaps this is "British understatement", which BE speakers are famous for. If there isn't an exact word that fits, you say something milder. It is very common in BE, I understand.

    My question is this. What adverb do you native English speakers (not just BE speakers) use instead of 'fairly' in the example sentence 'The train is fairly quicker than the bus' without changing the degree?
    That is a good question. In AE, without changing the degree, we say this:

    1. The train is quicker than the bus.

    In other words we use no adverb, because there is no AE word we can use here that matches "fairly" in degree. But the degree expressed in sentence 1 matches "fairly", since it is in between the meanings of these other phrases:

    2. The train is a lot quicker than the bus.
    3. The train is much qucker than the bus.
    4. The train is a little quicker than the bus.
    5. The train is a little bit quicker than the bus.

    Edit: the following are a little awkward but are also used:

    6. The train is quicker than the bus by a fair amount.
    7. The train is a fair amount quicker than the bus.
     
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    meijin

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    1. The train is quicker than the bus.

    In other words we use no adverb, because there is no AE word we can use here that matches "fairly" in degree. But the degree expressed in sentence 1 matches "fairly", since it is in between the meanings of these other phrases:
    Ahhhhh........you're right, dojibear. Problem solved! :thumbsup:

    Edit: the following are a little awkward but are also used:

    6. The train is quicker than the bus by a fair amount.
    7. The train is a fair amount quicker than the bus.
    They do seem a little awkward, but it's good to know that they are idiomatic.
     
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