American English

Definition of scarcely adverb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



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  1. 1only just; almost not I can scarcely believe it. We scarcely ever meet. Scarcely a week goes by without some new scandal in the papers. There was scarcely a tree left standing after the storm.
  2. 2used to say that something happens immediately after something else happens He had scarcely hung up the phone when the doorbell rang. Scarcely had the game started when it began to rain.
  3. 3used to suggest that something is not at all reasonable or likely It was scarcely an occasion for laughter. She could scarcely complain, could she? You can scarcely blame Annie. It is scarcely surprising that the reforms have provoked such widespread discontent. 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: scarcely