Tim Bowen briefs us on the uses of brief in this brief look at word grammar.

The word brief is most commonly used as an adjective but it can also function as a noun and a verb.

Apart from its more common adjectival meaning of ‘lasting only for a short time’, as in ‘a brief visit’ or ‘a brief spell of sunny weather’, it can also be used to indicate that someone only uses a few words. This can be in a positive sense as in ‘I don’t want to keep you long so I’ll be brief’ but it can also have a negative connotation as in ‘She can be a bit brief but don’t let that put you off’.

A brief  is a set of official instructions to do a job saying how the job should be done, as in ‘His brief was to write a book on black holes for the ordinary reader’ or ‘We are fairly sure we will be able to meet all the requirements of the design brief’.

The expression in brief means using as few words as possible and without many details, as in ‘The plan is to change the radio station’s style: in brief, less talk and more music’.

The plural form briefs is used for men’s short, tight underpants or women’s knickers.

The verb to brief means to give someone information about a particular situation, especially officially, as in ‘The prime minister and his team were briefed on the latest flood situation’. This information typically given at a meeting is known as a briefing.