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I'm attempting to learn some basic Japanese vocabulary through a set of Anki flash cards, but one of the cards has the word かなり on it. The definition provided says "fairly, rather." This implies to me that it shows something to be of a lesser degree. For example, if I am fairly certain of something, I am not certain of it, but believe myself to be correct. On the other hand, Wiktionary define かなり as "quite." This seems much stronger than "fairly" or "rather." At least as I use it, "quite" implies a very high degree. If I am quite certain of something, there is little to no doubt in my mind. If someone asks me if I am certain of something, I would not hesitate to confirm by saying "Yes, I am quite certain." Tagaini Jisho suggests a definition of "Considerably, fairly, quite." Sadly, I find each of these words to be different. "Quite" seems stronger than "considerably," which seems much stronger than fairly.

Given all of this, I am left confused as to what かなり actually means. Can someone explain it to me?

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    There's no need to search for an exact English equivalent. かなり means "fairly", "rather" and "quite" at the same time. Just like ちょっと can mean things quite different by their magnitude. – Rilakkuma Mar 7 '15 at 8:49
  • I have some trouble with this concept. Fairly and quite seem to be used in nearly opposite situations ("quite certain" expresses a high degree of confidence, while "fairly certain" a low degree), so how would anyone ever know what you meant when you said かなり if it means either one? I usually insert "fairly" before "certain" into a sentence to give the impression that I could be wrong, while I insert "quite" to assure the other person I know what I am talking about. How can かなり serve both purposes? – user7432 Mar 7 '15 at 9:01
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    My real question is, does inserting かなり strengthen an assertion (like quite) or weaken it (like fairly)? Or, how can you tell what someone wants to do if it can do either? – user7432 Mar 7 '15 at 9:07
  • Just to point out that 'quite' sometimes conveys the meaning of 'moderately'. I use it like this quite a lot :) Hence, I never saw the contradiction in the definition of かなり. (Sense 3: 'to a moderate extent or degree', non-descriptive qualifier at en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/quite#English ) – alexh Jan 8 '16 at 20:53
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I think your flashcard set and the WWWJDIC define かなり as "considerably, fairly, quite", because in usage this is exactly how かなり behaves. However, I think you have a fair question and the answer is that in meaning かなり is closest to "quite" in the sense of strengthening an assertion.

Once you can read some Japanese, this is best checked in a monolingual dictionary, like 大辞林

かなり【可成り・可也】
1. (副) 〔連語「可なり」からできた語〕 普通に予想されるより数量・程度がはなはだしいさま。相当。 「–うまくいった」 「–の損害」

where the bolded part translates to "extent/quantity (much) greater than expected". (And here the keyword is of course "expected", a nuance that is not present in "quite".)

  • Thank you. This is exactly the answer I was looking for. – user7432 Mar 7 '15 at 16:10
  • It bears mentioning that the word "quite" has different weight depending on which flavor of English you're speaking (British, American, Canadian, Australian, etc.), so this could be part of the reason why "quite" for かなり seems to fit and not all at once. – psosuna Oct 17 '17 at 16:50

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