By: Mary Palmer
You’ve probably heard someone say, at one time or another, “Wow, she’s really pretty!” Or maybe instead, “Wow, she’s really beautiful!” Is there a difference between these two compliments? To many people’s surprise, the answer is yes, there is a difference -- and a pretty significant one at that. The word “pretty” refers more to the outer aspects of good-looks, while beautiful has more to do with the overall beauty of someone, both inside and out.
“Pretty” can be used to refer to something with a pleasing quality, especially physical attractiveness and someone’s physical features (Brown). The Oxford dictionary defines the word as “attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “having conventionally accepted elements of beauty” (Hasa). Society has a large influence on what we define as “pretty,” so if someone doesn’t meet certain criteria or fit a specific idea of the way someone is “supposed” to look, they wouldn’t be considered pretty by many. Those who are considered in such a way might mean that the person is nice to look at/pleasing to the eye, but not particularly impressive. This may not be the best compliment you could give someone, as it could be considered as describing a limitation of beauty (“Difference Between”).
In contrast, the word beautiful is literally defined as “possessing beauty” (“The Difference”). This adjective is mostly used to describe women, but can be used for girls of other ages as well. If a woman is beautiful, she “has a friendly nature, regardless of whether they are pretty on the outside or not. [She] will, most of the [time], present joy, love, care, passion, and generosity” (Brown). Someone with these traits commands confidence, and is often very accomplished (Brown). Being beautiful can describe something near perfection. It can also be used to describe things you can’t see, such as “a beautiful idea” or a “beautiful song.” It is more of a romantic term in relation to outward appearance (“Difference Between”). In short, being beautiful is just what it sounds like: possessing beauty, both inside and out.
Now that the definition of both words is known, it is much easier to compare the two, and to decide which compliment girls would prefer. Pretty is a much more general term; being beautiful has more of a connotation of “unique” (Brown). While both are used to describe a pleasing-looking face, beautiful can refer to anybody, super-model or not (“Difference Between”). Both are compliments any girl would be happy to receive -- but maybe one more so than the other. In any case, either adjective is more polite than saying “hot” or “a looker.” Compliments have meaning, and just one word could make the difference between offending someone or making their day.
The bottom line is: there is a difference between the words “pretty” and “beautiful” whether some people realize it or not. Be careful which one you use. Maybe not-so- coincidentally, “pretty” and “petty” have only a one letter difference. To be considered is nice, but it seems so...petty compared with being described as beautiful. The best kind of girl is awesome from the inside out.