See more synonyms for hardly on Thesaurus.com
  1. only just; almost not; barely: We had hardly reached the lake when it started raining. hardly any; hardly ever.
  2. not at all; scarcely: That report is hardly surprising.
  3. with little likelihood: He will hardly come now.
  4. forcefully or vigorously.
  5. with pain or difficulty.
  6. British. harshly or severely.
  7. hard.

Origin of hardly

1175–1225; Middle English; Old English heardlice. See hard, -ly
Can be confusedbarely hardly scarcely (see synonym study at the current entry)

Synonym study

1. Hardly, barely, scarcely imply a narrow margin by which performance was, is, or will be achieved. Hardly, though often interchangeable with scarcely and barely, usually emphasizes the idea of the difficulty involved: We could hardly endure the winter. Barely emphasizes the narrowness of the margin of safety, “only just and no more”: We barely succeeded. Scarcely implies a very narrow margin, below satisfactory performance: He can scarcely read.

Usage note

1, 3. Hardly, barely, and scarcely all have a negative connotation, and the use of any of them with a negative like can't or couldn't is often condemned as a double negative and thus considered nonstandard: I can't hardly wait. Such constructions do occur occasionally in the speech of educated persons, often with jocular intent ( You can't hardly get that kind any more ) but are not found in formal speech or writing. When hardly in the sense “only just, almost not” is followed by a clause, the usual word to introduce the clause is when: The telephone had hardly stopped ringing when (not than ) the doorbell rang. See also double negative.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for hardly

Contemporary Examples of hardly

Historical Examples of hardly

  • You've been so devoted to her for three days that you've hardly bowed to old friends.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • Hope asked no questions, and hardly felt the impulse to inquire what had happened.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • She hardly looked up or spoke; but for me, I cared for nothing since she was with me.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • I can hardly think that Parliament will adopt a different view.

  • It can hardly be to-day, however, for here we are at Harlowe House.

British Dictionary definitions for hardly


  1. scarcely; barelywe hardly knew the family
  2. just; only justhe could hardly hold the cup
  3. often ironic almost or probably not or not at allhe will hardly incriminate himself
  4. with difficulty or effort
  5. rare harshly or cruelly


Since hardly, scarcely, and barely already have negative force, it is redundant to use another negative in the same clause: he had hardly had (not he hadn't hardly had) time to think; there was scarcely any (not scarcely no) bread left
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for hardly

c.1200, "in a hard manner, with great exertion or effort," from Old English heardlic "stern, severe, harsh; bold, warlike" (see hard + -ly (2)). Hence "assuredly, certainly" (early 14c.). Main modern sense of "barely, just" (1540s) reverses this, via the intermediate meaning "not easily, with trouble" (early 15c.). Formerly with superficial negative (not hardly).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper