American English

Definition of hardly adverb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



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  1. 1almost no; almost not; almost none There's hardly any coffee left. Hardly anyone has bothered to reply. She hardly ever calls me (= almost never). We hardly know each other. Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about her (= I think of her almost every day). At the time, I hardly spoke any French. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.
  2. 2used especially after “can” or “could” and before the main verb, to emphasize that it is difficult to do something I can hardly keep my eyes open (= I'm almost falling asleep). Icould hardly believe it when I read the letter.
  3. 3used to say that something has just begun, happened, etc. We can't stop for coffee now, we've hardly started. We had hardly sat down to supper when the phone rang. (formal) Hardly had she spoken than she regretted it bitterly.
  4. 4used to suggest that something is unlikely or unreasonable or that someone is silly for saying or doing something He is hardly likely to admit he was wrong. It's hardly surprising she was fired; she never did any work. It's hardly the time to discuss it now. You can hardly expect her to do it for free. “Couldn't you have just said no?” “Well, hardly (= of course not), she's my wife's sister.” He's 24—hardly a baby. Which Word?hard / hardly The adverb from the adjective hard is hard:I have to work hard today. She has thought very hard about her future plans. It was raining hard outside. Hardly is an adverb meaning “almost not”:I hardly ever go to concerts. I can hardly wait for my birthday.It cannot be used instead of hard:I’ve been working hardly today. She has thought very hardly about her future plans. It was raining hardly outside.
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: hardly