What Does Hard and Fast Mean?

Hard and Fast Meaning

Definition: Firm and fixed; cannot bet altered under any circumstance.

People use this expression to describe a rule that is not flexible: a hard and fast rule or hard-and-fast rule.

Origin of Hard and Fast

This expression first appeared in the latter half of the 1800s. It was originally a nautical term, describing a ship that was out of water, whether it had run aground or because it was in dry dock.

A ship that was hard and fast was one that was beached and could not move.

As early as the late-1800s it was being used figuratively. The Oxford English Dictionary has an early figurative use of the term dating back to two different speeches in the House of Commons in 1867:

  • The House has…determined to have no hard and fast line.

In its modern sense, it 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, and it is clear cut and fast.

Examples of Hard and Fast

hard and fast definition In the dialogue below, two friends are talking about a project one of them has been working on.

Ezekiel: Are you finally finished preparing your presentation for work?

Maggie: No, and if I don’t finish it tonight, I’ll be in huge trouble at work.

Ezekiel: Can’t you just ask for an extension?

Maggie: I wish I could, but my company’s rules are hard and fast when it comes to meeting deadlines. They never offer any exceptions.

meaning of hard and fast In this example, two friends are discussing rules at the school of the woman’s granddaughter.

Tyrion: Are you okay? You seem very stressed right now.

Mila: I am stressed. I made my granddaughter a beautiful headband, and told her to wear it to school. She told me any type of clothing for the head wasn’t allowed at her school, but I insisted that she wear it. I thought there was no way the school had such hard and fast rules about headbands. Anyway, she was right. She got in big trouble.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about California’s financial investment in students.

  • “Drawing any kind of hard-and-fast conclusion about the success or failure of California’s massive shifts in the public education landscape based on only two years of test data would be irresponsible,” Kirst said. Still, he added, “we believe we are on the right track.” –OC Register

This excerpt is about the price of medications.

  • “When we talk about the price of a drug, it’s sort of an arbitrary estimate instead of a hard-and-fast rule,” said Caitlin Morris of the advocacy group Families USA. –Houston Chronicle


The phrase hard and fast means strict and inflexible and adds emphasis to rules which cannot be broken.