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As a native speaker of English, I had never heard the "fully" version until recently. Now I seem to hear it a lot, but only from non-native speakers. Are the two equally acceptable in semi-formal writing?

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Personally, I hear "fully fledged" and I think of something with with all of its feathers... – Sean Duggan Feb 14 '12 at 15:31
@SeanDuggan that is exactly what it means. It's a metaphor. – slim Feb 14 '12 at 15:59

Also as a native speaker, I've never heard "full fledged", only "fully fledged" so I suppose we're even.

"Full" as an adverb feels a bit archaic, only generally used in stock phrases such as "full in the face", "know full well" -- although of course "full fledged" could be one such phrase.

NGram says that "full fledged" became more popular than "fully fledged" between ~1910 and 1940, but that before then and overwhelmingly since, "fully" is more common. Ngram graph

Additionally, dictionary.com says that the adverb "full" means "exactly or directly" and "fully" means "completely or entirely". By those definitions, "fully fledged" is the only phrase of the two that really makes sense.

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@Kris It's what I expected to see. "Full fledged" sounds archaic to me, as I said. "Fully" is the modern adverb. – slim Feb 14 '12 at 15:25
@slim The OED respectively disagrees with you. N–Grams is never an acceptable substitute for actual scholarship. Notice that it admits full-fledged, half-fledged, and new-fledged. People who say fully-fledged as adjective probably say orientated, too, which just sounds silly. Normal usage is “The young chick was at last fully fledged” but “That’s a full-fledged idea.” Note the difference. – tchrist Feb 14 '12 at 17:30
@slim Yes, I meant respectfully. One need no more say a fully-fledged idea than a newly-born babe. It’s a new-born babe and a full-fledged idea. This ‘modern’ hangup with -ly forms is as excessive as -ical forms for -ic forms, or -tated forms for -ed forms. It’s all just a bunch of extraneous and unnecessarily wordy additions to perfectly adequate terms. I would not analyse the lengthier forms so much as ‘modern’ as you do, but rather as um, ‘logorrhoeic’. :) – tchrist Feb 14 '12 at 17:37
@tchrist Hmm, when OED contradicts actual usage (and the margins are significant) I tend to think the "actual scholarship" is at fault. – slim Feb 14 '12 at 17:40
@slim I have provided you with contrastive examples that rightly and distintively call for ‘fully fledged’ and for ‘full-fledged’. To apply ‘fully-fledged’ across the board is no more defensible than to pretend that ‘newly-born’ is more modern than ‘new-born’. Indeed, it borders on pretense. It’s logorrhoeic mumblespeak, and not to be encouraged. Down that road lies Newlyfoundland, and similar lies. – tchrist Feb 14 '12 at 17:45

I feel the picture gets more clear if you see this graph: This is for American English only.

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whereas, for British English:

enter image description here

I am more comfortable with full-fledged, as that is what I have heard more. Also, there is a large number of people who sill use it quite frequently. Also, as the graph shows in more than one time of the past both have been used with almost same popularity in American English, e.g. 1960, 1900, 1870 (approx.), 1880, 1845 (approx.) etc., though as Slim has shown, there was a gap overall, the major contribution being from the British English towards fully-fledged.

Though, this doesn't make things even, but at least shows the difference in bias, in two variants of the language.

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nGrams are context-agnostic -- so draw no early conclusions from them. – Kris Feb 15 '12 at 9:38
I would agree, if the bias were not so far apart. Plz notice the red curve in one is barely grazing the horizontal, and in another has risen and fallen. So, clearly, it was largely popular in American English usage, and rarely used in British English. Also, I must point out both the terms are used in similar contexts. So, the agnosticism does not create problems. – karthik Feb 16 '12 at 11:24

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