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It's my understanding that "easily" is the regular adverb for "easy", e.g. "He makes friends easily".

But in some collocations one still uses "easy", e.g. "Take it easy", "Rest easy" or "Slow down easy". Is there any rule when "easy" would be used over "easily", or does one just have to know these collocations?

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  • My gut feeling says the latter. You just need to know those collocations. But I have no data/resource to back that up, hence, just the comment rather than an answer. – iMerchant Feb 10 '17 at 21:34
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The adverbs easily and easy do mean different things. The former means without strain or effort; the latter, without worry, with peace of mind.

If I sleep easily, it means I have no difficulty falling asleep. If I sleep easy, it means my sleep is sweet and tranquil.

The two are obviously related, and there are some usages of easy that are precisely equivalent to easily. Both the overlapping and the distinct meanings are explained in Merriam-Webster. First, easily:

1 : in an easy manner : without difficulty (won easily).
2 a : without question : by far (was easily the best meal I've ever had).
b : at the minimum : at least (costs easily twice as much).
3 : well 10b (it could easily have been me).

Next, easy:

1 : easily 1 (promises come easy).
2 : without undue speed or excitement (take it easy).
3 a : without worry or care (rest easy).
b : without a severe penalty (got off easy).
c : without violent movement (the boat rode easy).
4 : easily 2 (cost $500 easy)

So it's not just that adverb easy is always only a lazy substitute for easily. Under various circumstances, it can connote something different: of being easy in one's mind, of lacking any disquiet.

I don't think I'm being too far-fetched in claiming the following: There is a subtle distinction between saying

The medicine went down easy

and

The medicine went down easily.

The latter simply means I had no trouble swallowing it. The former suggests, in addition, that I was gratified in taking it; that I was happy to do so; that I expected it would do me some good.

  • Thanks, great answer! I've made this the accepted one, as the MW links describe very clearly when easy is the same as easily and when it has its own semantics. – Gunnar Feb 11 '17 at 16:50
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    You're welcome. You might want to google flat adverbs, by the way. Easy counts as one. – verbose Feb 12 '17 at 1:09
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Using "easy" as an adverb (that is, to modify a verb) is part of idiom; it is colloquial usage. The correct English adverb is "easily".

The word "easy" has many idiomatic usages. Fowler's "Modern English Usage", 1998 Edition, says:

"Some set phrases containing easy used as an adverb, all of them first recorded in the 19th century, are, however, firmly embedded in standard English: to take it easy (1867), to go easy (on or with, 1850), easy does it (Dickens, 1865), stand easy (1859), etc."

Even Shakespeare wrote: "As easie might I from my selfe depart, As from my soule which in thy brest doth lye." Sonnet 109, 1600

So, using "easy" instead of "easily" is informal and fashionable. It should not be done in formal writing.

However, you can't safely improvise this usage. For example, "It's easily done" is correct, but "It's easy done" is not. You just need to become familiar with the cases where it is allowed. Fortunately, they tend to be common, so you will encounter them fairly often (and soon, once you start listening to English speakers).

  • +1 from me... What I love about the English language is that it evolved under the pretence of "what's easier to day/what sounds better". – Moo-Juice Feb 10 '17 at 21:43
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    Juice, toast and two eggs over easy, please. – Airymouse Feb 11 '17 at 0:30

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