I've just read my first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In it, I have found several instances of the word "directly" being used in a way I am not familiar with. It appears to have the meaning "when" or "right after" or "as soon as":

"Directly the cards were dealt I kicked myself."

Directly Bond and Leiter had left to walk over to the hotel, she had telephoned.

Directly the boot was shut, the third man [...] climbed in beside him [...].

Directly they sat down, he apologized gaily for having startled her at the telephone booth [...].


Is this an obsolete used of the word? Is this only British English? I have read quite a lot of books from many different time periods, but I've never stumbled across this before - do other authors besides Fleming use "directly" in this way?

  • 2
    As can be seen from Ham and Bacon's examples, it's [more?] common to follow "directly" in this sense with the word "after". I think omitting "after" is really just a stylistic device (used by Fleming more than most, perhaps). It sounds slightly "dated" to me, but definitely not "obsolete". Jun 28, 2011 at 12:26
  • "I'll be back directly" is common in the rural South Carolina coastal region. It means "I will return soon."
    – user122625
    May 22, 2015 at 16:48

8 Answers 8


As reported by the NOAD, using directly to mean "as soon as" is British English usage.
Directly was once used to mean "in a little while, soon"; this use was common to American and British English.

She fell asleep directly she got into bed.
I'll be back directly.

  • It is still used sometimes to mean "soon" or "quickly" in present-day British English; J.K. Rowling used it in the HP novels (Book 3, Snape, in reference to a goblet of what turns out to be Wolfsbane potion: "You should drink that directly, Lupin").
    – KeithS
    Jun 28, 2011 at 14:20
  • In Appalachain hillbilly dialect, it is often used to mean "soon" or "in just a moment". "I'll be there d'rectly"
    – TecBrat
    Aug 4, 2012 at 21:37

This usage isn't (quite) obsolete, in Britain at least, but is relatively formal and associated with a 20th century RP mode of speech and writing, which tallies with the Fleming source. Related to your examples is its use to mean 'in a short time', as in 'I'll be with you directly,' and the nice Cornish word dreckly.


Growing up I was more used to "directly" being used to mean at some indeterminate time in the future. I understand now that the correct dictionary meaning is "as soon as" or "at once", but my Mother and some other adults I used to know used it to to slow down an expectation (more in line with the definition above of "soon, in a little while"). Interesting how a word can be turned around to mean almost the exact opposite of what the actual definition is.


I live in Texas and I remember my great-grandmother, born in 1907, regularly used it to mean "in a little while". Anytime she was leaving, "I'll be back directly" (pronounced "dreckly"). Anytime she was coming, "I'll see you directly" (again, "dreckly").

  • Likewise, my grandfather (born in far western Kentucky in 1903 but living in Texas) used the term directly in the 1960s through 1980s to mean "soon." In his vocabulary, it served as a counterpoint to "by and by," which meant "not too long from now, but don't hold your breath."
    – Sven Yargs
    May 23, 2015 at 4:21

Uncle from Oklahoma always used it to mean "in a little while": e.g.,

We will go camping directly.

I think he brought it back from WW2.


My grandparents who lived in eastern Kentucky used "I will be there directly." to mean that they would be there very soon. They used "I will be there presently." to mean that they would be there eventually but not soon. Because I grew up in the north and they used a lot of Old English words and phrases that I didn't understand I asked the librarian at home to look them up. It was pre-computer and I was elementary school age. I liked that they spoke differently.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! I hope you'll take the tour to learn more about this site. Oct 29, 2015 at 12:48

"Directly" as used in southern America, is not a reference to a definite amount of time but rather as more of an itinerary. "I'm going to the store and will be back directly" means that the person making the statement will be coming straight back from the store without going any other place. The person spoken to can make their own judgement as to the time required to make the journey.


Dictionary. com doesn't list it as "obsolete":

at once; without delay; immediately: Do that directly.

I myself have used it, and heres a title that use "directly" posted on the 6th of June, 2011:

Frequent crashes directly after startup or after matching

Also this one:

Top 10 Security Settings to make directly after Installing Active Directory


There's no difference between the OP's examples and mine's, except for the fact that the OP's example includes the inverting of sentences i.e. ""Directly the cards were dealt I kicked myself."

This is not an obsolete or unusual way of using "directly", just that the order of the letters have been switched. Try that on my examples:

Directly after startup or after matching, frequent crashes occur.

So, basically, there's nothing unusual about using "directly" this way, it's just a different sentence structure.

  • I probably was being unclear. I know that "directly" itself is not obsolete, but I have only ever seen it used in the way you are showing in your examples. Try replacing "directly" with "as soon as" in my examples and in yours, and you'll see the difference. I don't know the grammatical term for what "directly" is in these two contexts. Jun 28, 2011 at 7:21
  • @Tim: It is used as a conjunction (instead of an adverb). Jun 28, 2011 at 8:26
  • 1
    note that your examples all contain the phrase "directly after", while none of the original ones do. Jun 28, 2011 at 9:04

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