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What does ‘quite ‘ mean in the following examples? Some can be replaced with ‘what’ for the same meaning, can’t they?

Quite a long time.

Quite a task.

Quite a person.

Quite an essay.

What a task!

What a person!

What an essay!

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You have somewhat confused or complicated the issue by putting exclamation marks after the "what" sentences but not the "quite" sentences. "Quite a person!" is broadly similar to "What a person!", while "Quite a person" is, well, less of an exclamation.

"Quite a long time[!]" seems of a slightly different nature to the others.

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They are not totally interchangeable, aren’t they? I still can’t simply explain what both actually mean in clear words where they’re used.

healerThey are not totally interchangeable, aren’t are they?

Both "Quite a ~ !" and "What a ~ !" are exclamations used to point out something impressive, remarkable, etc. in either a good or bad way. "Quite a ~ !" can be understood as short for "That's quite a ~ !". "What a ~ !" is generally more common, and I suppose feels a bit more emphatic, whilst "Quite a ~ !" feels milder and may be less used in negative cases. There are cases that are almost set phrases with "What", where "Quite" would rarely be used; for example, "What an idiot!". On the other hand, in other cases we can use either; for example, "What/Quite a story!" when someone has told a remarkable tale.

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