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Is this correct?

That is a real cool answer.

I learned that that was incorrect, since "real" is an adjective which can describe a noun, e.g. "real answer" but it is not an adverb which can describe an adjective, "real cool". Instead you would have to say:

That is a really cool answer.

Since "really" is an adverb.

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1  
Anybody who claims adjectives cannot be used as intensifiers (as real is here) is just bloodily wrong. –  Peter Shor Jul 19 '12 at 2:36
    
Wow, that's a real success for the prescriptive folks out there: tinyurl.com/ol2oyt7 (ngram link). I immediately thought of Chester Himes' "The Real Cool Killers". I don't think he would have dared called his book "The Really Cool Killers". –  quadruplebucky Feb 21 at 1:08

4 Answers 4

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English lists 'real' as an adverb also, but qualifies it as 'American English spoken'

Even Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary has the following note for 'real as an adverb:

Most handbooks consider the adverb real to be informal and more suitable to speech than writing. Our evidence shows these observations to be true in the main, but real is becoming more common in writing of an informal, conversational style. It is used as an intensifier only and is not interchangeable with really except in that use.

I, therefore, don't think it's incorrect to say something like "It is a real cool answer" in informal speech and writing! Here, 'real' is an intensifier, that is, an adverb qualifying an adjective!

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I generally dislike "real" as an adverb, but there are some idioms where it's appropriate, like "dance real slow." –  Dave Burton Sep 20 at 4:43

"real cool" might be incorrect, but is used in casual conversation.

Even if "really" is "more correct", the Common Errors site mentions:

Really” is a feeble qualifier.
Wonderful” is an acceptable substitute for “really great” and you can give a definite upscale slant to your speech by adopting the British “really quite wonderful”.

Usually, however, it is better to replace the expression altogether with something more precise: “almost seven feet tall” is better than “really tall”.
To strive for intensity by repeating “really” as in “that dessert you made was really, really good” demonstrates an impoverished vocabulary.

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Even better British alternatives are: "jolly good", "spiffing", and "quite marvellous"! –  Noldorin Aug 13 '10 at 12:26
    
+1 for the link to common errors, nice overview, good summaries, and no ads: wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.htm –  Edward Tanguay Aug 13 '10 at 12:27
    
@Noldorin or one I wish I could say but I can't because I'm an American is "spot on", love to hear it though –  Edward Tanguay Aug 13 '10 at 12:28
    
Why does the fact that you're an American mean you can't say "spot on"? I'm a Yank and I use Briticisms all the time (probably The Doctor's influence, but still). –  cori Aug 13 '10 at 12:30
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"Spiffing" is definitely of the past, (makes me think of Biggles, [Jennings](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennings_(novels) and Just William, though I couldn't guarantee that they ever said it.) –  Benjol Oct 14 '10 at 4:57

I assume when you say "correct" you mean "standard". And I will presume that when you don't say "standard", you mean US standard English. In which case, the answer is that this is not standard US English. It's common in certain dialects, I believe mainly southern dialects. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not standard.

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"Real cool" sounds fine to me, although it is definitely a bit slangy. Even more slangy would be "mad cool," as in: "That song is mad cool." Also interesting is that mad has become a new count noun, which is normally thought a very closed category. For example, if you say "There's mad people here," that can either mean that there are angry people there or, in slang, there's tons of people here.

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In British Englist, if you say there's mad people here, you mean this. –  Benjol Oct 14 '10 at 4:59
    
@Benjol: probably in american english too, mostly.. it's very slangy –  Claudiu Oct 14 '10 at 14:10

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