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As dictionaries indicated, both real and really can be the adverb. For example:

He is finding prison life 'real tough'.

Can we instead say 'really tough' in this case?

Question: what's the difference between real and really, when they serve as an adverb?

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I think real is just a slang term for really. A long time ago, a bunch of teenagers decided that really would sound cooler if you left out the ly. And over time, real has become an expression on its own. So, I don't think they're completely interchangeable. In certain situations, you can replace real with really without significantly affecting the meaning of your sentences. In other situations, where real is part of a slang expression, it's a completely separate word with its own nuances in meaning.

Example #1:

Hey, dude, wanna go out tonight and get boozed?
For real. Let's do it. (for real here is an expression)

Example #2:

I'll hurt you real bad if you don't show me where you hid the money! (can be replaced with really, but the sentence would not sound as casual as it probably should)

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  • How about "I will do that in real quick"? Can we say "...in really quick" instead?
    – dan
    Dec 8 '17 at 1:25
  • @dan you'd have to say "I will do that really quickly." "Really" is modifying "quickly" which is modifying "do." It's adverb-adverb-verb. The "in" doesn't belong. That said, a lot of people would say, "I'll do that real quick." It's not necessarily correct, but it's common. Dec 8 '17 at 1:27
  • @joiedevivre, but I've seen 'real quick' has been used in lots of contexts. For example, i am going to go to the store real quick. and Pop in real quick for some fast food memes
    – dan
    Dec 8 '17 at 1:32
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    @dan Yes, a lot of people would say that. But it's also okay to say "really quickly" in those places instead. You can't really learn any "rules" for this, because it breaks the rules. I gave you the version that follows the rules. :) Dec 8 '17 at 1:41
  • I wouldn't call "real tough" slang, I'd call it "colloquial" or "informal". Dec 8 '17 at 3:23

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