pretty vs. beautiful

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cfu507, Aug 2, 2007.

  1. cfu507

    cfu507 Senior Member

    Is there any difference/hierarchy between pretty and beautiful? Which one flatters more?

    * Please correct my post if I chose a wrong word.
    Thank you very much!
  2. quesuerte

    quesuerte Senior Member

    Oxford English UK
    Beautiful is more powerful than pretty. Also beautiful is more poetic and more serious.

    You are a beautiful! - (Wow! I really like you!)
    You are really pretty! - (Awww, you're cute!)

    Also note that if you call someone pretty, you'd usually say "very pretty" or "really pretty", as pretty can seem a bit weak.
  3. setantaclaus Member

    English, Ireland
    I assume that you inadvertantly inserted an article in the first example, because beautiful is not used as a noun, or at least I've never encountered it.
  4. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    "Pretty" has a sense of youth to it, to me. In that way it might be considered more flattering if you were saying it to someone other than a teenager. :) "She is a pretty 50-year-old woman" sounds a little odd unless she looks very young for her age; "She is a beautiful 50-year-old woman" sounds very complimentary.

    I can't say that anyone else sees it this way.
  5. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    If this hasn't been covered ad nauseum in another thread, I'll eat my Libertarian Party card.
  6. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    You know, I was sure it had been but when I looked up the word "pretty" in the English Definition portion of the Word Reference dictionary, but I couldn't find any other thread with this topic.

    (By the way, having Libertarians carry cards seems needlessly regulatory. ;) )
  7. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I agree with JamesM. Although the phrase "pretty woman" is heard (and is, indeed, the title of a popular film), it would be more usual to say "beautiful woman". "Pretty girl" could apply to a little girl or a young woman; "beautiful girl" is more likely to be said of a young woman, rather than a child.

    "Beautiful" is certainly more powerful than "pretty", having connotations of something really special/stunning in the looks of a person, rather than general physical attractiveness. "Pretty" has, as has been said, connotations of "cuteness".

    I am speaking for British English usage only here.
  8. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    So this is what I heard from a male friend.

    He said he uses "pretty" to women who are only physically attractive, and he uses "beautiful" to women who are both physically and intellectually attractive. In other words, you have to be pretty to be beautiful, but you can't be beautiful if you are just pretty.

    I repeat, this is not my opinion. (but I do somehow agree with it)

    I often say "Oh, you look pretty/nice" or "She's really good-looking/pretty", but I seldom use the word "beautiful" in everyday language.
  9. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    To me, "pretty" is a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. "Beautiful" is Cherries Jubilee.:) The first looks very nice and somewhat appetizing but the second not only looks fabulous but is much more satisfying.
  10. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Looks like it's been discussed a few times in the Spanish-English and French-English forums, but only briefly (cute vs. pretty) in the English Only forum.

    (I wonder why the French and Spanish speakers seem to give this more importance...)
  11. Rivendell

    Rivendell Senior Member

    Spanish / Spain

    You know, these Latin lovers in quest for the right compliment... ;)
  12. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    Here is another thought: I think it would be complimentary to describe a man as beautiful, but if you describe him as pretty it implies that he is somewhat effeminate. Maybe this relates somehow to the previous ideas about beautiful women and pretty girls - pretty is a bit pink and frilly. Is beautiful more universally applicable than pretty?
    Of course, the most significant difference is the strength of the message - I might not go out of my way to see a pretty waterfall, but I'd definitely go to see a beautiful one.
  13. Rivendell

    Rivendell Senior Member

    Spanish / Spain
    Yes, I agree with Liliput, 'pretty' is not only used for girls, also for objects, though I don't think I would use it for men, even if they are a little bit effeminate.
  14. cfu507

    cfu507 Senior Member

    Hey, I cheeked it before I started a new thread! Some credit please!? :)
  15. cycloneviv

    cycloneviv Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    English - Australia
    I've actually used it fairly frequently to describe men, not because they were effeminate but because they were overly-good-looking in a very conventional manner (which is not the type I go for.) For example, he might have luscious-looking lips, a perfect profile and smouldering eyes.

    I would tend to say "Hmm, he's a bit too pretty for me!"
  16. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Well done, cfu507.:)
  17. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    In BE, at least, one hears "I'd call her pretty rather than beautiful", which is correct. Beauty can go on for much longer than prettiness. The first to do with excellent bone structure, classical features, and large, soulful eyes, the second mainly with youth, freshness, virginal (or apparently virginal) charm. Sandra Dee was pretty, Sophia Loren was beautiful and she ain't too bad even now. Vanessa Paradis - I just don't know which to say.
    On occasions I refer to a man's face and body as beautiful, as I would to that of a horse, a dog, or wild animal, but I always feel a little self-conscious about making such an observation, however obviously true it is.
  18. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    I'm not too shy to tell my man how beautiful he is - in every way! ;)
  19. jrc214 New Member

    US, english
    I would like to point out that, at least in the United States, handsome is the more common word for males. A beautiful woman, her handsome husband, and their pretty little girl. They're only connotations, but that's what we're discussing right?
  20. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    For things certainly: "That's a pretty dress you're wearing", and in the Kubrick movie "Spartacus", Charles Laughton as Gracchus chooses a dagger to commit suicide in order to avoid the vengeful wrath of his rival, with the words: "No. I'll use that one - it's prettier".
    Some may not know the expression: "That's a pretty kettle of fish you've got us into", meaning "You've got us into big trouble",
  21. ayupshiplad Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Pretty can almost be insulting because it's so weak, I think. If someone says "you're pretty" (especially without a 'really') it's like "Well, I don't think you're beautiful but I don't want to insult you, so I'll call you pretty instead!"

    Just my opinion though!
  22. quesuerte

    quesuerte Senior Member

    Oxford English UK
    Yeah, it's an adjective! Sorry for the typo!
  23. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Yes, ayupshiplad, I agree with that. Without an additional "really", or similar, "pretty" can sound like "second best". I have to say that when I was a young woman I did not like being described as "pretty". I would think, "Is that all?!!" Ah, vanity.

    Edit: Let's be honest: I still don't like it now!
  24. gatacaliente89 Member

    Beautiful suggests depth. It is something that one person can appreciate and another cannot. It also can describe the spirit and a person's personality. Pretty on the other hand is superficial. It can only refer to a person's physical appearance.
  25. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Agreed, gatacaliente89.
  26. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    "Pretty" can be faint praise as in:

    "She paid $8,000.00 for that wedding dress."

    "Yes, it is quite pretty."

    (For $8,000.00 we would expect more than "pretty").

    It can also be applied, in the same manner to people. Be careful when using "pretty" as it could easily be misconstrued.

    For instance:

    "Mike's girlfriend is very beautiful; Pete's girlfriend is pretty too." (Pete might take offense.)
  27. Kektology Member

    USA, English
    The word pretty also (to me) has more a of superficial (the literal meaning of the word) or aesthetically pleasing look. More "flashy."

    Beautiful can mean more than just her appearance (in the case of a beautiful woman). And even if so, it's the whole picture, while in my mind, pretty USUALLY pertains to someone having a pretty face. How she acts could be beautiful (I, for one, find self-respect extremely beautiful).

    Also, if you say someone is beautiful it comes from the heart, while pretty seems more like just a compliment.

    Edit: Crap someone else used superficial. Maybe I should read other peoples replies first :(.
  28. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    In Bernstein's "West Side Story", Maria has the monologue song "I'm so pretty", which she certainly means as a great compliment to herself. Admittedly, it was a handy word to rhyme with "city". and Maria's English was not always of the best, as when she chides her WASP lover with the words, "Quiet, or you will wake my fathers!" , but it seems OK to me. It would appear that a girl uses pretty, possibly out of modesty, to describe herself and leaves "You're so beautiful" to others.
  29. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Aha! I found it! Finally! :D

    (Look at my key word :D)
  30. camaysar Senior Member

    usa, english
    Minority opinion: I think most women (especially younger women and girls) would be pleased to hear someone say they were pretty, without a trace of insult..
  31. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    :eek: Same here :p

    I think it might depend on how well you know the girl you're trying to pay a compliment to.

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