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She is a karate coach. She is not very powerful, but she is very quick/fast/rapid.

Can I use all three words quick, fast or rapid in the sentence?

Could you tell me the different meanings between them, if they are fine here?

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Macmillan Dictionary defines quick ("able to move fast or do something fast") and fast ("able to move quickly") in terms of each other, so there's not much to choose between them.

Either is a desirable trait in a striking art like karate; force equals mass times acceleration, after all.

On the other hand, Macmillan defines rapid as "happening, moving, or acting quickly," rather than being quick or fast.

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Quick is best, although fast is ok.

But at least for me, you can’t use rapid here; it doesn’t seem to apply directly to people like that.

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Yes, quick relates to acceleration, while fast relates to speed. One could have a very fast top speed but could take a long time to build up to that speed, while another could be very quick to react but their top speed might not be that fast. – Jim Aug 13 '12 at 3:27
Question asks for "Could you tell me the different meanings between them", would be better to expand on that. – deworde Aug 13 '12 at 9:00
@deworde: O.P. also asks for "if they are fine here," and "can I use all three," so tchrist has answered much of the question. (Not every answerer need answer every part of a three-part question.) – J.R. Aug 13 '12 at 9:48
@Xavier off-topic comments will be deleted on sight. There are better uses to put your time to. – RegDwigнt Aug 13 '12 at 10:05
@tchrist:Could you please explain why quick is best, although fast is ok? Thanks. – atsea Aug 14 '12 at 3:48

Fast and quick can be used here, and which one you use depends on the facts of the case. An article called The difference between FAST and QUICK in martial arts by ‘Anakonxx’ explains the difference in this context:

Being quick means delivering a technique with explosive speed. Fast is speed without the explosiveness. The former should be the goal of any combat sport devotee.

Some comments in the final paragraph of that article suggest that strength is an important element of quickness:

Lastly, let’s talk about strength in relation to being fast and quick. Once the student learns the mechanics of the technique, the timing is beautiful, your perception speed is marvelous, and your delivery is impeccable. You are only fast, but you are not quick yet. You need to add strength to the strike. ...

If you agree with the martial-arts article’s definitions of fast and quick and the comments about strength, then saying “She is not very powerful” might preclude calling her quick; she might merely be fast.

Some previous answers note that rapid isn't suitable. This is a matter of usage (see ngrams for she is... and he is...) rather than of grammar. I think rapid is commonly used to characterize actions or processes, but not people.

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I can't give reference, but just let you know that to my American ear, "quick" or "fast" are both good, but "rapid" seems unnatural in that context.

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"Fast" is the best choice.

Quick and fast are almost identical in meaning, but quick also has the connotation in a sentence such as that of being quick on the uptake, quick to learn, etc., while fast does not and implies quick in movement only. Unless, of course, you want to express those other implications as well.

Rapid simply does not fit the context.

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I see that you should be able to differentiate between the three now. But ever tried to use something else, all these words are relative, in other words, fast means do something like moving quickly but relative to something else.

I would recommend you taking your reader imagination a bit further and you relate for the reader.

She is a karate coach. She is not very powerful, but she is as fast as an eagle attacking a prey.

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I would prefer "Quick" as defined in Dictionary.com

1. done, proceeding, or occurring with promptness or rapidity, as an action, process, etc.; prompt; immediate: a quick response.

2. that is over or completed within a short interval of time: a quick shower.

3. moving, or able to move, with speed: a quick fox; a quick train.

4. swift or rapid, as motion: a quick flick of the wrist.

5. easily provoked or excited; hasty: a quick temper.

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That’s a horrible dictionary. The OED has over 30 major senses for quick, plus many more subsenses beyond even those. – tchrist Aug 13 '12 at 3:56
Its a simple dictionary for those who need it though. – Newbie Aug 13 '12 at 6:05
FWIW, Onelook will get you links to several online dictionaries, some that are quick and simple, and others that are more in-depth. – J.R. Aug 13 '12 at 9:55

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