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Our first argument

I used to work with Gail, who who could argue to the death about the placement of a comma. She knew all the rules, and all the terms for all the parts of the English language. She could wax eloquent (and endlessly) about insubordinate modifying clauses and coordinating conjunctions.

One time Gail insisted that “more common” was grammatically incorrect and that “commoner” must be used instead. (eg: “Disability is commoner among older people.”) The editor finally conceded that Gail was technically correct but that there was no way in hell that sentence could be published because it sounded so wrong.

While Gail was a language geek with an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, I tend to be more intuitive about language. I judge a sentence by how it looks and sounds. I can’t explain why a mistake is a mistake; it’s just something I feel in my gut.

Maybe I acquired my intuitive sense of the language from my mom, who was an English teacher with a low tolerance for grammatical or spelling errors.

I was about thirteen when she decided all my clothes would come from the brown family, and all my sister’s clothes would come from the blue family. This, she said, would make it easier to put together outfits, because everything would match.

She also decreed that every Sunday night my sister and I would complete Outfit Charts for the coming week. These charts would list exactly what we would wear each day. For example: Monday: brown corduroy pants, white and brown striped blouse, tan jacket, beige socks.

There were so many possible misspellings of the word beige (baje, biege, beyge, baige, bayje, for starters) and I kept getting it wrong on my weekly Outfit Charts. After several weeks and multiple warnings, she grounded me for two weeks.

You’ll notice I don’t spell beige incorrectly anymore. (Perhaps coincidentally, I don’t wear brown or plan my outfits ahead of time anymore either.)

Anyway. All of this prelude brings me to the fact that GC and I are having our first argument, and it could be a dealbreaker. We need your help.

We’re at odds over the use of the words ‘fast’ and ‘quickly.’ Neither one of us can explain why we think we’re right, so we’re hoping some of you might offer an opinion* and an explanation. If you’re reading this in a feedreader or email, I think you’ll need to click over to my blog to vote in the poll.

*XUP? Do you have an opinion on this?


27 comments to Our first argument

  • katiec

    i voted for the one that sounded more correct (or, according to this Gail person “the one that sounded correcter” haha) and would probably be the grammatically correct one, however i would have said the other in normal speech.*

    *please do not judge my lack of capitalization, punctuation, and grammar in this comment… my written commenting style is mean to mimic the way i speak..

  • I believe it’s fast because fast has to do with speed (like how fast a car is going) and quickly with time (like he had to do it quickly, like right now). The quickly probably sounds right because of the first part of the sentence — “she was in a hurry.” Good question! Made me think about why I’d use fast.

  • Jo

    I though that fast was an adjective and quickly was an adverb, so you’d be driving quickly, in a fast car. But I did some poking around and it seems that fast is in fact acceptable as an adverb OR an adjective. Apparently (here we veer into “too much information” territory) in old English the word “fast” was a past participle, so it could become an adverb without adding “ly” the way most adverbs require, though I’m not totally sure I understand that all myself.


  • She drove fast because she was in a hurry.

    She was in a hurry, so she drove fast.

  • Quickly is more correct because it’s an adverb, but fast sounds better. So fast wins.

    I voted that they are both correct.

  • gramps

    oops – I misread the question and voted the reverse of what I feel to be correct. I believe that “she drove quickly is correct. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Gillian

    A lot of people drive ‘fast’, particularly in this city. I tend to drive fast but I also walk quickly. I find that ‘quickly’ sounds a bit more formal, and there are many situations where either one is correct.

  • Lissa

    The movements you are making in order to complete the action of driving aren’t done more quickly if your car is progressing at an accelerated speed. I vote “Fast”.

  • I think fast can function as an adverb sometimes.

  • They’re both correct, I think. To me, it’s a question of which one is more effective. That’s why we have rules of grammar: to communicate effectively. So I voted for fast.

  • deb

    I am just amazed that I don’t remember the lists of blue and brown. Thank god I got blue.

    Shouldn’t it be fastly?

  • Nat

    The Man (also a grammar writer guy) and I agree that quickly is correct. It’s a fast car that she drove quickly. Fast is adjective and Quickly is an adverb.

    However after reading the comments, I consulted the (hard copy) OED. The fine folks and Oxford disagree. They say that fast is an adjective and an adverb. In which case they are both correct even though fast sound wrongs.

  • GC

    OMA had a good explanation in the comments section of the poll. She also pointed out that the question was phrased wrongly, ie. “Which statement is INCORRECT?”. Do you never wonder that this probably isn’t why I can’t win any arguments with you?… not! Is that what you’re thinking?

  • Leanne

    I seem to disagree with most of the comments, so I must give my opinion! I believe that “she drove fast” is correct, and “she drove quickly” is incorrect. So I chose “she drove quickly” in the poll, because I read the question before I answered.

    Here’s my reasoning: “Fast” can be used both as an adjective and as an adverb. Thus the answer does not rely on whether the sentence calls for an adjective or an adverb. Clearly, it calls for an adverb. But which one?

    There is a difference between the meaning of the words “fast” and “quick”. According to OED, “fast”(as an adverb) means “at high speed” (along with other meanings, of course”. “quick” means “taking a short time”, or “with little or no delay”.

    Driving is definitely something you do “at high speed”. The word “quick” just doesn’t resonate for me as something associated with driving.

  • To drive a car quickly…. it’s not the car that is quick in this sentence, but the driving. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but it changes the meaning of the sentence.
    I just looked at it again and now I’m all confused. Is there actually a right and wrong answer here?

  • XUP

    Yes, of course I have an opinion. Everyone is right that fast can be used as an adjective or an adverb. HOWEVER, there is a teensy rule of convention about when each is used. In very short sentences “fast” is traditionally used, while “quickly” is used in longer sentences. Because of the conjunction in the example sentence therefore, while “fast” isn’t completely wrong per se, “quickly” would be more correct.

  • Nancy

    THIS could be a dealbreaker?

  • “Quickly” would refer to her driving – i.e. the motions she is making in the physical act of driving. (“That’s some mighty speedy shifting, my dear.”)
    And I think she would drive “faster” if she was in a hurry.
    So I voted that they’re both wrong.
    But then, I’m speaking American English, so I’m all wonky anyway…

  • Jenny in Duluth

    Well, according to The Rules, “quickly” is the correct option because it is an adverb, and adverbs describe verbs. BUT! who makes up these rules anyway?? How language is actually spoken changes over time, and this is one of the rules that is changing. As “driving fast” becomes more common, it will sound right to more people, and after a while, it will become “correct” based on the fact that everyone thinks it sounds okay. Language changes! Sometimes it’s good to stick with the older rules, because it sounds more formal, but really, a lot of these rules are becoming more fluid.
    (but I still voted that quickly is correct!) :)

  • Much more important is that you two should go somewhere quickly and get in a fast snuggle or two so this sort of thing doesn’t put the brakes on your deal.

  • Wow, you guys are good! I still don’t know what the right answer is, but I’m impressed that so many of you can speak so convincingly about grammar.

    A few people left their comments inside the poll’s commenting function, including my mother whose answer was so complex I wasn’t sure which one she thought was correct. However she says she no longer cares quite so much about grammar but is pleased I can spell beige. She also pointed out, quite rightly I think, that the question itself is poorly phrased. The question should have been “Which sentence is correct?” rather than “Which sentence is incorrect?” Double negatives and all that.

    For the record, GC thought “quickly” was correct and I thought they were both right.

  • tobique demo

    Did she exceed the speed limit?
    I usually associate fast with driving. As in its opposite, “slow down”!
    As for a dealbreaker, if GC drives too fast on the Queensway … keeps changing lanes, tailgates, passes on the right, maybe.
    Wordplay, never.

  • 1) Both sentences can be correct.

    2) Because both fast and quickly are adverbs.

    3) XUP’s short sentence rule made me laugh.

    4) I would probably use “fast” because I tend to use fast to describe the speed at which an activity is done and “quickly” to indicate that the activity began after a short time.

  • Dwarfie, I’m glad you weighed in. Some people at breakfast yesterday said it was too bad you weren’t there because you are the ultimate authority on all things grammatic. (Or would that be grammatical?)

  • Zoom,

    About breakfast: I’m a busy guy and I can’t be everywhere. Unless you start scheduling these brunches 7 months in advance, I’m not likely to be available on a Saturday or Sunday.

    As for grammar: I’m a word cop not a grammar cop, and at that, just a beat cop. For real authorities, you should go to Language Log.

  • Techwood

    I choose both as being correct. But to me it would really depend if that sentence was followed by another one or if it was part of a conversation.

    e.g. She was late so she drove quickly. It would take normally take at least fifteen minutes to get there. Today it took ten.


    She was late so she drove fast.

  • I voted for quickly being correct, but I change my vote with thought.

    You drive fast, not quickly. Now if you had said she walked ___ because she was in a hurry, I would say quickly.