On Not Indulging in Different Ways to Say “Promptly”

Today I saw the following in a contract on EDGAR (emphasis added):

Owner shall provide Contractor notice (which may be oral or by electronic means) of such non-compliance and Contractor shall correct such non-compliance right away

So add right away to the list of alternative ways of saying promptly. MSCD 13.536 already offers expeditiously, as soon as practicable, and forthwith.

Elegant variation—going out of your way to avoid using the same word or phrase twice—is never a good idea. It’s particularly unfortunate in contract drafting, in which tone plays no part. If you wish to convey the same meaning, use the same word. If you think you’re exploiting shades of meaning by using, say, right away instead of promptly, you’re fooling yourself, as no such distinctions exist among vague words and phrases of that sort.

(Bonus: Regarding the relationship between promptly and immediately, see MSCD and this 2008 post. And of course, see this recent post on not saying the negative equivalent of promptly.)

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

5 thoughts on “On Not Indulging in Different Ways to Say “Promptly””

  1. In a litigation context, I remember learning from IP litigators that a court order to do something forthwith meant a timescale that was very short – sometimes perhaps hours rather than days, with no excuses. I would not expect promptly to carry that level of strictness in a contract. So I would not be so sanguine that these words are interchangeable. But then you already have definite views on the sanity of English judges.

    As for where immediately fits, that is even less clear in my mind, but I would probably lump it in with forthwith.

    I agree that in a contract one shoud say promptly or specify a time period. This also has the benefit of avoiding the term of art “forthwith”.

    • The key phrase is “going out of your way.” My favorite example of this is schlock sports commentators. A pitcher is a “hurler” or “is on the mound,” hitting a home run is to “go yard,” to score a goal in hockey is to “light the lamp,” and on and on.

      • In literary uses, it’s actually considered good form. Sports writing is never a literary use unless you’re Ring Lardner or Roger Angell.

        • Actually, the notion applies generally. The first person who complained about elegant variation was Fowler. Garner writes about it too, except he calls it inelegant variation.


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