Quite, Quiet—Homophones? No
by Owen Fourie
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation, but they differ in meaning, origin, and spelling.
These two words, quite and quiet, should not be treated as homophones, but I’ll include them in this category because some do regard them as such.
Strictly speaking, they do not have the same pronunciation, and it is only by incorrect enunciation that they seem to be homophones.
To distinguish between these two words and to pronounce them correctly, we have to note that one has one syllable while the other has two.
This is the word with one syllable, and it is pronounced with the first vowel, i, as a long vowel sound. The second vowel, e, is silent.
It is used as an adverb indicating extent, whether complete or partial:
- You were quite right about going to see her; it made her very happy.
- Yes, but I am not quite sure that she really accepts that I cannot visit her frequently.
- It is quite a distance from my home to hers.
- Quite so. (A term of agreement: agreeing with the previous statement)
This is the word with two syllables, and it is pronounced “kwi’-et”. The first syllable is emphasized and has the long “i” sound. The “e” of the second syllable is a half-vowel sound.
As an adjective, it can describe a situation that is noiseless or hard to hear, calm or at rest:
- quiet neighbors
- quiet strumming of a guitar
- quiet place to meditate
- quiet night
As a noun, it can be the quality or condition of being quiet:
- An ominous quiet preceded the storm.
- An appeal for quiet was made to allow the girl to tell what had happened.
If that appeal for quiet is not heeded, someone could call out and say, “Quiet!” In this case, quiet would be a verb, although “quieten down!” (UK) or “quiet down!” (US) would be what should be said.
Quite or Quiet?
It is quite common to see the word quiet used for quite in forums on the Internet.
Test yourself. Choose the correct word. Here’s a clue: If you can replace quite/quiet in the following sentences with any of these words—really, very, rather, fairly—the correct choice will be quite.
- It’s quiet/quite warm today.
- I used quite/quiet a lot of paint on that wall.
- If you will not be quiet/quite, I shall not be able to concentrate.
- I quite/quiet like to sing, but I would prefer to play the flute.
- There was no wind as we stood beside the quiet/quite lake.
- She found a quite/quiet place in the suburbs.
And the answers are
- It’s quite warm today. (It’s very warm today.)
- I used quite a lot of paint on that wall. (I used rather a lot of paint on that wall.)
- If you will not be quiet, I shall not be able to concentrate.
- I quite like to sing, but I would prefer to play the flute. (I really like to sing, but I would prefer to play the flute.)
- There was no wind as we stood beside the quiet lake.
- She found a quiet place in the suburbs.
So, is it possible to be quite quiet?
“Oh, do come into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly. “It is so busy and noisy out there with everything buzzing around. You’ll find it quite quiet in here. After a while, you won’t hear anything. It really will be quite quiet, apart from the sound of my snacking.”
Now, we’ll quit
The words quiet, quite, and quit all come from the same Latin root meaning freed or at rest.
The word quit requires a separate study to distinguish between its various usages: informal or formal; American or British. It is more closely related to quiet in the sense of being at rest and therefore quiet. In pronunciation, it is unlike quite and quiet.
Now, we’ll bring this article to an end. To put this informally: We’ll quit.
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