Rules governing “quite a [adjective]” word order

As part of an answer on another StackExchange site, I have a sentence reading, in part, “[A religious manual] which has quite a long section on [the subject of the question] says …”

I was looking at this construction and thinking about whether I should say quite a long section or a quite long section—they seem to mean the same thing. Then I began wondering about the construction “quite a[n] [adjective]” in general. It looks as if I can say something is quite a large X or a quite large X; quite a long X or a quite long X; but, for example, neither *quite a purple X nor *a quite purple X.

I’m trying to solidify in my mind:

  1. The rules governing when I can say quite a[n] [adjective] [noun] in the first place
  2. The rules governing when I can invert this to a quite [adjective ] [noun]
  3. Whether there are any other adverbs besides quite which can be inverted in this way.

Is there a name for this inversion? What sorts of elements does it apply to?


The word quite describes the degree of intensity to which the adjective modifies the noun. If I say that something is quite big, then it should be understood to mean that the thing is bigger than many things but not as big as it could be. It might be less common to discuss varying degrees of purple, but I don’t think I would call it ungrammatical to do so. I would say that the answer to your first question is that you can say ‘quite a(n) x’ any time the adjective can have its intensity modified. I can’t think of an example where I could say ‘a very x’ and not ‘quite a(n) x’ (assuming very to mean ‘to a great degree’ and not its alternate meaning).

Source : Link , Question Author : Matt Gutting , Answer Author : Dave Magner

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