- To almost no degree; barely at all; almost not: I could hardly hear the speaker.
- Probably or surely not: He is hardly the kind of guy you would want to date. It's hardly a secret that they are engaged.
- With great difficulty or effort: I could hardly get up the stairs.
- With severity; harshly: “The winter months would deal hardly with many of these poor folk” ( William Black )
Origin of hardly
Middle English hardli from
Old English heardlīce harshly, bravely from heard hard
; see hard
Usage Note: In Standard English, hardly, scarcely, and similar adverbs cannot be used with a negative. The sentence I couldn't hardly see him, for instance, is not acceptable. This violation of the double negative rule is curious because these adverbs are not truly negative in meaning. Rather, they minimize the state or event they describe. Thus hardly means “almost not at all,” rarely means “practically never,” and so forth. The sentence Mary hardly laughed means that Mary did laugh a little, not that she kept from laughing altogether, and therefore does not express a negative proposition. But adverbs like hardly and scarcely do share some important features of negative adverbs, even though they may not have purely negative meaning. For one thing, they combine with any and at all, which are characteristically associated with negative contexts. Thus we say I hardly saw him at all or I never saw him at all but not I occasionally saw him at all. Similarly, we say I hardly had any time or I didn't have any time but not I had any time and so on. Like other negative adverbs, hardly triggers inversion of the subject and auxiliary verb when it begins a sentence. Thus we say Hardly had I arrived when she left on the pattern of Never have I read such a book. • Hardly and other minimizing adverbs are properly followed by when and not than in sentences like I had hardly walked inside [when/than] it began to rain. In our 2008 survey, 79 percent of the Usage Panel rejected the use of than in the previous sentence. See Usage Note at double negative. See Usage Note at rarely. See Usage Note at scarcely.
(comparative more hardly, superlative most hardly)
- (manner, archaic) Harshly, severely.
- I can't really deal hardly with people.
- (now rare) With difficulty.
- (degree) Barely, only just, almost not.
- they hardly ever watch television; I hardly think they'll come in this bad weather; it's hardly possible he could lose the election.
In the sense "barely", it is grammatically a negative word. It therefore collocates with ever rather than never.
- Compare example sentence with I almost never watch television
- Not really.
- I think the Beatles are a really overrated band. ― Hardly!