American English

Definition of barely adverb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



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  1. 1in a way that is just possible but only with difficulty He could barely read and write. The music was barely audible. She was barely able to stand. We barely had time to catch the train.
  2. 2in a way that almost does not happen or exist She barely acknowledged his presence. There was barely any smell.
  3. 3just; certainly not more than (a particular amount, age, time, etc.) Barely 50% of the population voted. He was barely 20 years old and already running his own company. They arrived barely a minute later.
  4. 4only a very short time before I had barely started speaking when he interrupted me. Grammarhardly / scarcely / barely / no soonerHardly, scarcely, and barely can all be used to say that something is almost untrue or almost impossible. They are used with words like any and anyone, with adjectives and verbs, and are often placed between can, could, have, be, etc. and the main verb:They have sold hardly any copies of the book. We had scarcely any time between dinner and the show. I barely recognized her. His words were barely audible. I can hardly believe it. I hardly can believe it.Hardly, scarcely, and barely are negative words and should not be used with not or other negatives:I can’t hardly believe it.You can also use hardly, scarcely, and barely to say that one thing happens immediately after another:We had hardly/scarcely/barely sat down at the table, when the phone rang.In formal, written English, especially in a literary style, these words can be placed at the beginning of the sentence and then the subject and verb are turned around:Hardly/Scarcely had we sat down at the table, when the phone rang.Note that you usually use when in these sentences, not than. You can also use before:I scarcely had time to ring the bell before the door opened.No sooner can be used in the same way, but is always used with than:No sooner had we sat down at the table than the phone rang.Hardly and scarcely can be used to mean “almost never,” but barely is not used in this way:She hardly (ever) sees her parents these days. She barely sees her parents these days.
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: barely