Fast, Fastly, or Quickly? I Need an Adverb

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Fast, Fastly, Quickly: Help! I Need an Adverb

I post a daily Grammar Challenge on my Facebook page. It’s fun and gets lots of comments. The nice folks that post their answers are more grammatically astute than most people and it’s tough to stump them. Sometimes, however, I am surprised to find that a question I think will be easy turns out to be a real poser.

That happened recently with the following fill-in-the-blank question:

The correct answer is A: fast. But a surprising number of challenge-takers said C. A number of them suggested that quickly would be correct or preferred to either fast or fastly. There were even a handful who wrote “I would probably say A, but I bet B is the right answer.”

I predict that if I asked the broader populace about this, the great majority would have chosen the right answer — fast — without a moment’s hesitation. It’s only the grammar-conscious minority that struggle with it.

Why do grammar nerds feel uncomfortable with using fast as a simple adverb? I suspect it’s because we are so used to such adverbs ending in ly. We wouldn’t say…

  • Don’t eat your hot dog so greedy.
  • Don’t eat your hot dog so sloppy.
  • Don’t eat your hot dog so sad.

We’d say…

  • Don’t eat your hot dog so greedily.
  • Don’t eat your hot dog so sloppily.
  • Don’t eat your hot dog so sadly.
Fast Is Fine

It just sounds right when obvious adverbs end in ly. When they don’t, we get nervous about our grammatical correctness.

Most common adjectives have adverb forms that end in ly. But not all of them. There are a handful of often-used adjectives with identical adverb forms. Fast is among them. Others include soon, hard, tough, and farFastly simply doesn’t exist in the English lexicon. There’s no explanation for this. Fast is just an exception.

And this isn’t some recent-and-therefore-suspicious evolution in language. It has always been okay to use fast as an adverb. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary the use of fast (meaning “with speed”) as an adverb predates its use as an adjective. The first recorded adverbial use of fast goes back to 1275 and there are examples in published works in every century since.

A quick look at an Ngram Viewer shows (to my surprise) that fast has been consistently used as an adverb more often than as an adjective since at least 1800:

What About Quickly?

Quickly is a fine word. It is synonymous with fast in most current uses. But it is not the adverb form of fast. Fast is the adverb form of fast. You may choose to use quickly if you like, but don’t choose it because you think it is somehow more “correct” than fast.

So, go ahead do things fast if you like. If anyone questions the grammatical soundness of such a usage — send them to this blog post!

*****

Get your comments down there in the reply section fast!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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    Thank goodness you wrote this!! I am someone who is hyper-aware of grammar and the words I hear and how people use them. I often refer to myself as the polite grammar-police. However, this is an instance in which my fervor nearly backfired. (My love for language led me to arrogantly assume that quickly is more correct than fast.) I have not yet actually corrected anyone for having made this ‘mistake’, but recently have been silently criticizing television personalities for committing it. Glad to know I can ease up on the public a bit, and that for once, I WAS WRONG!

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      I so appreciate your humility here Bethany. I wish more grammar geeks were as sensitive to other people and knowledgeable about the gray areas of language. :)
      Thanks for your comment.

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    I confess. I got it wrong. After looking at the answer I thought, “I would have said it using ‘fast’.” I think the grammar quiz question itself might prompt grammar-consciousness in the test-taker. It would be interesting to compare responses to a context-suggestive fill-in-the-blank version of the question with those to the multiple choice version.

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