I recently led a Better Business Writing class for a corporate tax department. It was a highly educated group–people with MBAs, master’s degrees in taxation, and other impressive credentials. I am happy to say that they were educated and sophisticated enough to realize that improving their business writing would increase their effectiveness. They were a delight to work with.
One thing about their writing troubled me. They used the word timely as an adverb, like this:
We filed that tax return timely.
The quarterly payments were sent timely.
In my experience as a business writer and reader, I had seen timely used only as an adjective:
You must make timely payments. [meaning "on time"]
That was a timely phone call. [meaning "opportune" or "well timed"]
So when I read the tax department’s writing in class, I stumbled over their use of timely. I wanted to change it to "on time" or "promptly." Yet they assured me they were correct–that their use of timely was standard in their field.
Were the members of the tax department correct? Can timely be used as an adverb?
Yes, they were correct. Consulting my American Heritage College Dictionary, I learned that timely is also an adverb meaning "in time" or "opportunely."
Once again, a reference book settled an issue. When you have disagreements about word usage, grammar, and punctuation, don’t argue. Don’t stew about them. Just check an up-to-date dictionary, style manual, or reference book. For suggestions, visit my website.
Along with a current reference book, use common sense. If neither you nor anyone in your group has heard or seen a particular word used in business writing, don’t use it. I mention this caution because my dictionary shows another word that apparently means timely just below the timely entry on the page.
The word? Timeous, an adjective. The adverb form is timeously. Not even a tax department, filled with MBAs and statistical wizards, would use those forms. Of that I am certain. But if you doubt me, do an informal survey.