‘Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot': What's the Difference Between Them?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on May 29, 2023

Has someone calling you 'cute' or 'pretty' or 'hot' left you wondering what these terms mean? If so, you are in luck. In this guide, I will explain the differences, definitions, pronunciations, and other essential details about each term so you know exactly what they mean.

Before we get started, are you in a hurry? 

If so, here is a short answer: 

  • 'Cute' is an adjective or noun that means attractive in an endearing way.
  • 'Pretty' is an adjective or adverb that means to possess conventional beauty.
  • 'Hot' is an adjective, adverb, noun, and verb that means sexually exciting.

If you are trying to determine what someone means by one of these three terms, the answer above should help. However, there is more to the story. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot?'

People use all three words as flattery or to express interest in someone. However, each has a slightly different meaning.

For example:

  • 'Cute' is a term of endearment
  • 'Pretty' means someone is appealing due to their conventional beauty.
  • 'Hot' is a term people use when physically or sexually attracted to someone.

Think of it this way, kittens are 'cute,' but people do not call them 'hot.' Furthermore, someone can be pretty without being physically attractive.

How Do You Know Which to Use Between 'Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot?'

Each of these terms is a compliment. But how do you know which to use?

  • Use 'cute' when someone is attractive because they look or act adorable.

For example, you could say:

You look so cute in your adorable pudgy bunny costume. 

  • Use 'cute' to describe something someone does.

For example, I might tell someone:

That dance you did with your sister in ballet class was so cute. 

  • Use 'pretty' when describing something that others would consider beautiful.

For example, you could say:

The flowers lining the walkway are pretty.

  • Use 'pretty' to tell someone they possess qualities of conventional beauty.

For example, you might hear someone say:

No wonder all the boys like her. She is pretty and intelligent. 

  • Use 'hot' to describe something that has a high temperature.

For example, you might say:

He was hot when he returned from his morning jog. 

  • Use 'hot' to say someone is physically attractive to you.

For example, you could say:

Maybe you should stay with us. He is so hot; I might be unable to control myself alone with him.

Definition of 'Cute': What Does 'Cute' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of 'cute' is:

  • Clever in an underhanded manner

It can also mean:

  • Smart-alecky
  • Adorable
  • Pretty in a childish way
  • The state or quality of being cutesy

Synonyms of 'Cute'

  • Beautiful
  • Charming
  • Handsome
  • Delightful
  • Adorable
  • Good-looking
  • Witty
  • Funny
  • Cunning
  • Mischievous
  • Tricky

Phrases Containing 'Cute'

  • Cute as pie
  • Cutey pie
  • Cute as a button
  • Cute kid
  • Cute and cuddly
  • Cute as can be

Definition of 'Pretty': What Does 'Pretty' Mean?

The same dictionary defines 'pretty' as an adjective or adverb that means:

  • Clever or artful

It can also mean:

  • Gracefully or delicately pleasing
  • Having the qualities of conventional beauty
  • Stout or considerable
  • Pleasant or easily enjoyed
  • A degree of something
  • Quite or mainly

Synonyms of 'Pretty'

  • Stunning
  • Gorgeous
  • Perfect
  • Sexy
  • Pleasant
  • Magnificent
  • Flawless
  • Gorgeous
  • Ravishing
  • Elegant
  • Magnificent
  • Delightful

Phrases Containing 'Pretty'

  • Pretty in pink
  • Pretty woman
  • More than a pretty face
  • My pretty
  • Pretty penny
  • Pretty much
  • Pretty soon
  • Pretty and polite
  • Pretty as a picture

Definition of 'Hot': What Does 'Hot' Mean?

The same dictionary defines 'hot' as an adjective, adverb, noun, or verb that means:

  • Having a high temperature

It can also mean:

  • Sexually aroused
  • Fresh or newly made
  • Quick or fast
  • Pursued by the police
  • In-demand or popular
  • Illegally made or acquired
  • Warm or heated
  • Sexually stimulating
  • Erotic or sensual

Synonyms of 'Hot'

  • Caliente
  • Scorching
  • Fiery
  • Sexy
  • Seductive
  • New
  • Contemporary
  • Popular
  • Warm
  • Vixen
  • Stud
  • Foxy
  • Desirable
  • Vampy
  • Hunky
  • Alluring
  • Sultry
  • Luscious
  • Desirable

Phrases Containing 'Hot'

  • Hot as hell
  • Hot to trot
  • Hot spot
  • Hot on their heels
  • Smoking hot
  • Piping hot
  • Hot and heavy
  • Hot body
  • Hot boy
  • Hot girl
  • Hot off the press
  • Hot pants

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot'

Pronunciation is just as important as knowing how to spell or define terms correctly. By learning how to say words, you are more confident using them when conversing or writing.

So, here is a pronunciation guide: 

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'cute':


  • The phonetic spelling of 'pretty' is:


  • Use the phonetic spelling below to pronounce 'hot':


Sample Sentences Using 'Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot'

Before you go, look at these sample sentences to see how to use 'cute' or 'pretty,' or 'hot' in different contexts.


  • The flower girl was so cute in her pale pink dress with little white flowers.
  • You are so cute when you make that face.
  • The puppies and kittens are so cute that I want to squeeze them.


  • She is so pretty with her beautiful flowing hair and flawless skin.
  • Even without makeup, she is prettier than most of the other girls in her class.
  • She is a beautiful person, pretty inside and out.
  • Beauty is only skin deep, but a positive attitude is pretty, no matter your looks.


  • He works out five or six days a week, and it is paying off! He is just as hot as he was in college.
  • Ben and Dan talked all day about how hot Carry was in her new outfit.
  • It made my day when he told me I was hot.
  • Do you know how hot you are?


  • He wasn't hot, but she was pretty cute.
  • As a child, she was cute. When she started high school, she was pretty, but now, she is hot!

Final Thoughts on 'Cute' or 'Pretty' or 'Hot'

Wow! That was a lot of information. So, let's do a quick recap: 

  • 'Cute' means that you find someone attractive in an adorable to endearing manner. 
  • 'Pretty' means that someone has characteristics most people consider beautiful. 
  • 'Hot' means that you find someone physically or sexually attractive. 

While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Someone cute is not necessarily 'pretty' or 'hot. Likewise, you might think someone is beautiful but not find them arousing.

If the difference between these terms mixes you up in the future, you can always come back to this lesson for a quick review. We also have an extensive collection of guides in the confusing words section that will teach you how to use, pronounce, and spell some of the most commonly misused English words.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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