What Does “Hard and Fast” Mean?

Hard and fast" is an idiomatic expression that describes strict and unchanging rules or principles. Learn about its origins and usage in this informative article.

Understanding “Hard and Fast”

“Hard and fast” is an idiomatic expression used to describe something that is strict, rigid, and unyielding.

It is often used to refer to rules, regulations, or principles that are inflexible and cannot be changed.

In nautical terms, “hard and fast” was used to describe a ship that was firmly beached on land.

Origins and Etymology

The phrase “hard and fast” has been in use since the Middle English period (1150-1500).

It was formed within English by compounding the words “hard” and “fast.” The earliest known use of the phrase is from around 1380, in Sir Ferumbras.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “hard and fast” as “with great force or violence” and “firmly, securely, or immovably.”

Modern Usage

In modern usage, “hard and fast” is not entirely idiomatic or figurative when you look at the separate definitions of “hard” and “fast.” “Hard” can also mean firm, defined as unyielding and unlikely to change. “Fast” appears in the sense of fasten, or to make secure.

The modern sense is more or less literal.

A hard and fast rule is a rule that does not change.

Can “Haste Makes Waste” be considered similar to “Hard and Fast”?

The saying “haste makes waste” meaning that acting quickly can result in mistakes and inefficiency can be seen as similar to the concept of “hard and fast.” Both phrases caution against rushing and emphasize the importance of careful, deliberate action to achieve better results.

Linguistic Nuances

The phrase “hard and fast” can be used in a variety of situations.

For example, “He adhered to his hard and fast principles, even when it meant losing the election.” In this sentence, “hard and fast” means strict or rigid.

Another example is, “The company has a hard and fast rule against smoking on the premises.” Here, “hard and fast” means inflexible or unchanging.


  • Strict and unyielding
  • Rigid and immovable
  • Inflexible and unbending

Overall, “hard and fast” is a phrase that conveys a sense of firmness and unyieldingness.

It is often used to describe rules or principles that are strict and cannot be changed.