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From Middle English prety, preti, praty, prati, from Old English prættiġ(tricky, crafty, sly, cunning, wily, astute), from Proto-Germanic *prattugaz(boastful, sly, slick, deceitful, tricky, cunning), corresponding to prat(trick) +‎ -y. Cognate with Dutch prettig(nice, pleasant), dialectal German (East Frisia) prettig(funny), German protzig(showy, ostentatious, swanky, pretentious), Icelandic prettugur(deceitful, tricky). For the sense-development, compare canny, clever, cute.



pretty ‎(comparative prettier, superlative prettiest)

  1. Cunning; clever, skilful. [from 9th c.]
    • 1877, George Hesekiel and Bayard Taylor, Bismarck his Authentic Biography, page 380:
      In the end, however, it was a very pretty shot, right across the chasm; killed first fire, and the brute fell headlong into the brook [...].
  2. Pleasant in sight or other senses; attractive, especially of women or children. [from 15th c.]
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 17, in The China Governess[1]:
      The face which emerged was not reassuring. […]. He was not a mongol but there was a deficiency of a sort there, and it was not made more pretty by a latter-day hair cut which involved eccentrically long elf-locks and oiled black curls.
    • 2010, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 4 Feb 2010:
      To escape a violent beating from sailors to whom he has sold a non-functioning car, Jerry takes his stepfamily for a holiday in a trailer park miles away, where, miraculously, young Nick meets a very pretty young woman called Sheeni, played by Portia Doubleday.
  3. Of objects or things: nice-looking, appealing. [from 15th c.]
    • 2010, Lia Leendertz, The Guardian, 13 Feb 2010:
      'Petit Posy' brassicas [...] are a cross between kale and brussels sprouts, and are really very pretty with a mild, sweet taste.
  4. (often pejorative) Fine-looking; only superficially attractive; initially appealing but having little substance; see petty. [from 15th c.]
    • 1962, "New Life for the Liberals", Time, 28 Sep 1962:
      Damned by the Socialists as "traitors to the working class," its leaders were decried by Tories as "faceless peddlers of politics with a pretty little trinket for every taste."
  5. (dated) Moderately large; considerable. [from 15th c.]
    • 1621, Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, I.2.4.vii:
      they flung all the goods in the house out at the windows into the street, or into the sea, as they supposed; thus they continued mad a pretty season […].
    • 2004, "Because They're Worth it", Time, 26 Jan 04:
      "What did you do to your hair?" The answer could be worth a pretty penny for L'Oreal.
  6. (dated) Excellent, commendable, pleasing; fitting or proper (of actions, thoughts etc.). [from 16th c.]
    • 1815, Jane Austen, Emma, Boston 1867, page 75:
      Some people are surprised, I believe, that that the eldest was not [named after his father], but Isabella would have him named Henry, which I thought very pretty of her.
    • 1919, Saki, ‘The Oversight’, The Toys of Peace:
      ‘This new fashion of introducing the candidate's children into an election contest is a pretty one,’ said Mrs. Panstreppon; ‘it takes away something from the acerbity of party warfare, and it makes an interesting experience for the children to look back on in after years.’
    • 1926, Ernest Hemingway, The sun also rises, page 251:
      "Oh, Jake." Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together." Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me. "Yes", I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
  7. (ironic) Awkward, unpleasant. [from 16th c.]
    • 1931, "Done to a Turn", Time, 26 Jan 1931:
      His sadistic self-torturings finally landed him in a pretty mess: still completely married, practically sure he was in love with Tillie, he made dishonorable proposals of marriage to two other women.


  • (ironic use:)
  • 1995, Les Standiford, Deal to die for, page 123:
    "[...] you can still see where the kid's face is swollen up from this talk: couple of black eyes, lip all busted up, nose over sideways," Driscoll shook his head again, "just a real pretty picture."


Derived terms[edit]



pretty ‎(not comparable)

  1. Somewhat, fairly, quite; sometimes also (by meiosis) very.
    • 1723, Charles Walker, Memoirs of Sally Salisbury, V:
      By the Sheets you have sent me to peruse, the Account you have given of her Birth and Parentage is pretty exact [...].
    • 1859, Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, I:
      It seems pretty clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to the new conditions of life to cause any appreciable amount of variation [...].
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 1, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      I stumbled along through the young pines and huckleberry bushes. Pretty soon I struck into a sort of path that, I cal'lated, might lead to the road I was hunting for. It twisted and turned, and, the first thing I knew, made a sudden bend around a bunch of bayberry scrub and opened out into a big clear space like a lawn.
    • 2002, Colin Jones, The Great Nation, Penguin 2003, page 539:
      The Revolutionary decade was a pretty challenging time for business.

Usage notes[edit]

  • When particularly stressed, the adverb pretty serves almost to diminish the adjective or adverb that it modifies, by emphasizing that there are greater levels of intensity.

Derived terms[edit]


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pretty ‎(plural pretties)

  1. Something that is pretty.
    "We'll stop at the knife store a look at the sharp pretties.
    • 1939, Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, The Wizard of Oz
      I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!


pretty ‎(third-person singular simple present pretties, present participle prettying, simple past and past participle prettied)

  1. To make pretty; to beautify
    • 2007, Eric Knight, Lassie Come-Home[2], ISBN 0312371314, page 29:
      He sat on the hearth rug and began prettying the dog's coat.

Derived terms[edit]


Most common English words before 1923: happy · hours · clear · #511: pretty · except · sound · didn't