Ad-lib and ad lib

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The term ad-lib is derived from a Latin phrase, though the current meaning deviates from the original meaning. We will examine the definition of ad-lib, where the term came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Ad-lib means to do something spontaneously, to do something without prior planning or practice. It may be used as an adjective, adverb, verb or noun, related words are ad-libs, ad-libbed, ad-libbing. People often ad-lib when acting, performing standup or sketch comedy, giving a speech or playing music. Interestingly, the term ad-lib is derived from musical notation. The Latin term ad libitum was sometimes used as a musical direction, which literally translates as “at one’s pleasure”. When directed to play ad libitum, one may play something as much as one likes in a way one likes. The term was shortened in American English sometime around the turn of the twentieth century to ad-lib, and took on its present meaning of doing something spontaneously and without prior planning. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the word should be hyphenated as in ad-lib when used as an adjective, verb or noun, and not hyphenated as in ad lib when used as an adverb.


Songwriting legends and country singers Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett reunite for intimate solo and duo performances and quick-witted ad-lib storytelling. (The Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The best hype men—Flavor Flav, Spliff Star, the early Sean (P. Diddy) Combs—hop around onstage, slightly behind and to the side of the lead m.c., addressing the microphone in order to ad-lib or to reinforce punch lines as they rumble by. (The New Yorker)

After TV success with Frost On Sunday, Corbett’s Follies, and No, That’s Me Over Here, Corbett and Barker got their biggest break thanks to a technical mishap at the Bafta awards, which left them having to concoct a lengthy ad-lib. (The Daily Mail)