English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In a movie I heard an actor saying "I'm dead serious". I looked up the dictionary and found that "dead" in this context means "really". Is it formal? Can we use it in business meetings?

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Dead, as adverb, is informal when used to mean very, such as in "omelets are dead easy to prepare." (As far as I know, dead is used to mean very only in British English.)
When dead is used to mean absolutely, completely, exactly, straight, or directly it is not used only in informal phrases.

share|improve this answer
So, what I understand from your answer is that we can use it in our conversations at business meeting table, when we don't mean very? Am I right? – Saeed Neamati Jul 17 '11 at 19:30
You could use it in the context of "That road is dead straight" or "You're dead on [to a point]". Other than those rather idiomatic uses, I don't think it would be appropriate in business – simchona Jul 17 '11 at 19:50
We use it all the time in American English. Also your last statement isn't a proper sentence and I can't figure out what it's saying? – Caleb Jul 17 '11 at 22:33
I think in a 'formal' business meeting I'd say "That last point was absolutely right", rather than "...dead right". The latter still seems somewhat informal to me, across all these shades of meaning. – FumbleFingers Jul 18 '11 at 0:19
I'm not sure. I think in some formal contexts, especially with "slow", dead can mean very - on road signs and as a formal command from a ship's captain. – Matt Jan 18 '12 at 7:23

Well, the use of a contraction isn't formal, but putting that aside …

Since the intended meaning of the word in that phrase does match the literal definition of dead as an adverb, it must technically be considered formal. However, such usage is certainly secondary to its common interpretation as a noun, and is liable to confuse your audience across cultural and language barriers. In formal writing, I'd avoid it just in case the people judging your work falsely condemn it.

Neither is the phrase offensive, but the primary meaning of dead still lends it a slightly morbid connotation. I'd using it sparingly and in appropriate context. For example, I'd say I'm dead serious in a business meeting, but not you're dead right. The latter statement clashes with the adverb's connotation, which makes the word stand out rather than just effectively carry your thoughts.

share|improve this answer
Good points. I liked the fuzzy thoughts here. You emphasized human intelligence to determine the context. One upvote. :) – Saeed Neamati Jul 18 '11 at 6:48
Interesting points. +1 – simchona Jul 19 '11 at 0:38

It should be used sparingly in formal settings(if you keep saying "dead" you will creep out people), but it isn't offensive and it isn't inappropriate to use when you really need to.

So it isn't the most formal, as it exaggerates meaning.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.