Why could 'I'm having quite a time' have opposite meanings?


I have found that some phrases could have completely opposite meanings as used in different contexts. i.e. I’m having quite a time.

The ‘time’ here could refer to a very good time as well as a very bad time. I feel this interesting and I love it because I feel this is the real and genuine part of the language. (sorry for my naiveness).

But I was wondering if there are any hows and whys to follow for such kind of phrases so as to be able to take in the spirit of the language at first sight. Could you help me out with this? Thank you very much in advance.


Hi Haihao,

Another interesting highlight on the use of words. You are right in saying ‘I’m having quite a time’ could suggest either a good or bad time. The meaning would of course become clearer within the context. Your question I think could form the basis for some scholarly article/book, both of which I’m afraid are beyond me. The only pointer I can give is that a characteristic of English as used by the population of the UK is generally one of understatement bordering on irony. In conversational English this shows itself in sentences like: It’s going to take some time = a long time/ Perhaps you ought to look at other careers for a living = You are no good at your present job. In literature the 19th century noevlist, Jane Austen is a supreme example, really the Queen of irony.


Hi Alan,

Thank you so very much for your interpretation and the pointer, which, I am sure, will remain in my mind for a while for me to ponder upon and digest so as to help me get closer to understanding English.

By the way, I love English literatures and Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I read twice, is among my favorites. Tom Jones and David Copperfield are other two favorite books of mine.

Thanks again.