#211: Pretty Much, Pretty Sure Meaning — Use Pretty as an Adverb

Jul 14, 2021 | Grammar

What exactly does ‘pretty’ mean when someone says ‘pretty much’ or ‘I’m pretty disappointed?’ How does a word that means ‘beautiful’ work in those phrases?

The simple truth is: it doesn’t.

With pretty much, pretty sure, pretty upset, or pretty disappointed, the word ‘pretty’ is an adverb.

And when ‘pretty’ is used as an adverb, the meaning changes.

Not only that, but it can have opposite meanings. Sometimes ‘pretty’ can intensify, like the word ‘very.’

But other times it can weaken the meaning of a phrase like when someone says, “I’m somewhat certain.”

In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn 4 ways to accurately use ‘pretty’ as an adverb in English.

Plus, you’ll get tips to know which meaning is used when you hear someone else say it.

4 Ways to Use ‘Pretty’ as an Adverb

Plus how to understand which meaning you hear in conversation.


Pretty Intensifies!

  • Native speakers love to use pretty in place of “very” or “really.”
    • My daughter’s pretty intelligent; she’s quick to learn any new instrument. 
    • We had a pretty productive discussion during today’s meeting. 
    • The meeting went pretty smoothly.

TIP: Pay attention to intonation. How you say the word can influence whether you have a positive or negative meaning.

Pretty Weakens! 

  • We know that pretty can intensify the meaning or emotion attached to an adjective or adverb. 
  • However, it can also do the opposite. Native speakers use pretty to soften an adverb or adjective. We use it to replace words like “fairly”, “slightly”, and “quite”. 
    • I’m pretty certain that Tony will be here on time. 
    • Michael should be here pretty soon. 
    • It’s been a pretty uneventful day, but I got most of my work done.

Pretty Approximates!

  • We use pretty to express that something is “more or less” or almost as we describe it.  
    • That’s pretty much all I need to say on the matter
    • Considering that our business is close to going bankrupt, I think the bank’s offer is pretty fair. 
    • Are you finished with your report? Pretty much. (In other words, you’re 99% finished.)

Pretty Is Unsure!

  • Pretty + sure = Uncertainty
    • I’m pretty sure we made the right choice.  
    • I’m pretty sure we sent an email reminder to everyone. 
    • We’re pretty sure that’s the right number to call.

Tips to Understand Which Meaning Is Correct When You Hear “Pretty” in Conversation

    With so many possible meanings for the word, it can be hard to tell the difference in a conversation. Here are some tips to help you easily understand what a speaker means when you hear it:

    • Tip #1: Listen for intonation. 
      • Does the speaker sound uncertain or certain? You can also use visual cues such as body language or facial expressions.
    • Tip #2: Consider the speaker’s emotion. 
      • Is the speaker upset, excited, sarcastic, or happy? What emotion do you sense when they are talking?
    • Tip #3: Analyze the context. 
      • Before you determine what pretty means, think about the context that surrounds it. Take in the words that come before or after pretty for clues about the intended meaning. 

    Now that you’re familiar with how to use ‘pretty’ as an adverb in English, I’d love to know:

    • What “aha” moments did you have when watching the lesson? 
    • What interesting or funny experiences have you encountered when “pretty” was used as an adverb? 

    The best place to practice and share is in the comment section below.

    Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

    ~ Annemarie


    P.S. Are you looking for a community to provide support, help you stay motivated, and guarantee that you grow? Check out our Confident Women Community.

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