Sunday, February 16, 2014

Word corner - hardly

Recently I did an exercise on hard and hardly with some Upper-intermediate students. They didn't have many problems with when to use which, but the question came up of where hardly should go in a sentence like this with any, anybody etc: before the verb, or before the noun (phrase) or pronoun.
  • You've eaten hardly any toast.
  • You've hardly eaten any toast.
  • I know hardly anybody here.
  • I hardly know anybody here.
and I confess I was temporarily lost for an 'official' answer, although I suspected that both were possible. And that indeed turned out to be the case. But I became rather interested in this question of position, and decided to try and find out a bit more.

Hard and hardly are completely different

The adjective hard

The adjective hard has several meanings including, amongst other things:
  • solid, not soft
    It has a hard surface
  • difficult
    The exam was quite hard
  • needing or using a lot of physical effort
    It needed a lot of hard work

The adverb from the adjective hard is hard, not hardly

The adverb hard has a few meanings, some related to the adjective, including:
  • with force
    He hit the ball really hard.
  • with effort
    I had to work quite hard to pass my exams.
  • very carefully
    Wed need to think hard about our next move

The adverb hardly has a completely different meaning

The adverb hardly means almost not, almost no, almost none, not very or very little
  • almost not, very little (with verbs)
    She hardly slept at all last night.
    I hardly know him.
  • almost no, very little (with nouns)
    There's hardy any sugar left.
    I hardly had time to think.
  • almost none, very little (with the pronouns any, anybody etc)
    Have we much coffee? - Hardly any.
    Who came to the meeting? Hardly anybody.
  • not very (with adjectives)
    It's quite late. He's hardly likely to come now.
    You're having to work late again! That hardly seems fair.

The adverb hardly has a negative sense

Although not fully negative, hardly has a negative sense:
  • it is often used with words used in negative phrases, like any, ever and at all
    We've hardly any milk.
    She hardly ever comes to see us.
    He's hardly eaten anythng at all.
  • it is not used with not, never or other negatives
    I can't hardly believe it. I can hardly believe it.
    He's hardly never done that before. He's hardly ever done that before.

The position of hardly - 1. with verbs, meaning almost not

When modifying verbs, hardly comes:
  • before the main verb
    I hardly slept all night.
    She hardly knew where to look.
  • between any auxiliary and the main verb
    She has hardly spoken to me all evening.
    I can hardly believe it.
    In twenty years' time there will hardly be any post offices left

The position of hardly - 2. with nouns, meaning almost no(ne)

1. When modifying the subject, after the verb be, after prepositions etc:
  • Before the subject
    Hardly anybody came to the meeting.
  • After be when there's no auxiliary
    There's hardly any milk left.
  • After a preposition
    He managed it with hardly any effort at all.
2. When modifying the object, with anything / any + noun etc
Here, hardly modifies anything, anybody, any + noun etc rather than the verb. So it's possible to put hardly directly before the any expression:
  • You've eaten hardly anything
  • I've got hardly any money
It is increasingly common, however, to put hardly before the main verb, jhust as with the other constructions:
  • You've hardly eaten anything
  • I've hardly got any money
3. When modifying an object without any. Note that sometimes hardly is really modifying the verb and the object together, and in these cases almost always goes before the verb.
  • She hardly said a word to him all evening.
  • I hardly had time to pack.

The position of hardly - 3. with been, gone etc + distance or time

With been, gone, travelled etc, hardly almost always goes before the main verb, not before the distance or time
  • She had hardly been to the end of the road.
  • He had hardly gone five minutes
  • We had hardly travelled ten miles.

Modifying adjectives

Hardly can also be used to modify adjectives, usually after the linking verb be.
  • It's hardly surprising that he feels like that.
  • That's hardly very likely.
  • He was hardly able to walk.
  • Don't worry about the mark. It's hardly noticeable.
  • That's hardly fair!
  • It's hardly necessary to take that attitude.
Some of these adjectives can also be used after the linking verb seem. In this case nowadays, hardly is more often used before the main verb, rather than before the adjective, especially in American English.

Can hardly / could hardly have been

We often hardly after can and could to mean almost can't or almost couldn't
  • I can hardly wait to see what his reaction will be.
  • I could hardly believe my eyes.
  • He could hardly have been more than ten at the time.
Sometimes we use can / could hardly to express our disbelief at something or to say that we think that something is not possible or fair
  • She can hardly have thought he wouldn't have found about it.
  • You can hardly blame me for that. I wasn't even there.
  • They could hardly sack him when it wasn't his fault, could they?

Hardly, scarcely, barely, rarely, seldom

The adverbs scarcely and barely also have a negative sense, and are used in a very similar way to hardly, although they are much less common and scarcely is seen as rather literary or formal.
  • I hardly / scarcely / barely know where to start.
  • They'd hardly / scarcely / barely had time to unpack.

hardly and scarcely to mean almost never

  • He hardly / scarcely leaves the house now he's retired.

hardly ever and rarely

We tend to use hardly ever instead of rarely or seldom in spoken English
  • I hardly ever / rarely / seldom go to the cinema nowadays.

had hardly / scarcely / barely ... when

We often use hardly etc to say one event happened immediately after another. We usually use past perfect in the clause with hardly etc, and past simple in the other clause, usually after when and sometimes after before.
  • She had hardly walked in the door when the phone rang.
  • The boys had scarcely finished eating when they ran from the room.
  • They had barely had time to take shelter before it started to rain.

had no sooner ... than

Note that we use a similar eprtession with no sooner, but with than rather than when.
  • We had no sooner arrived than we were treated to a hearty meal.

Negative inversion

In a more formal or literary style, we sometimes change the word order:
  • negative adverbial + auxiliary have + subject + past participle of main verb
  • Hardly had she walked in the door when the phone rang.
  • Scarcely had the boys finished eating when they ran out of the room.
  • Barely had they time to take shelter before it started to rain.
  • No sooner had they arrived than they were treated to a hearty meal.

The position of hardly before any etc - Ngram graphs

These graphs from Google Ngram Viewer show the use of hardly in a selection of books, British unless otherwise stated. As you can see, it is (increasingly) more common to put hardly before the main verb. This seems to be even more true in American English.
I should stress that these graphs reflect use in books, in other words, carefully written English. In spoken language, hardly is probably even more likely to come before the verb.
The graphs at Ngram seem to suggest that this tendency to put hardly before the verb is even greater in American English.

With have + any

However, when the verb have is being used as a state verb, for example in a possessive sense, and is followed by any, hardly comes more often after the verb:
The words time, other and effect all appear in the top four both before or after have at Ngram. Here's how they compare:
But when have is acting more like an action verb, and can be replaced with get, for example, hardly is used more often before the verb:
This use of hardly after have seems more marked in American English.

Be anywhere

Normally, hardly goes after the verb be, but when been is being used as a past participle of go - I've hardly ever been there - it comes before the verb.

A bad night's sleep - British and American compared

hardly had any sleep200hardly got any sleep290
hardly got any sleep190hardly had any sleep190
had hardly any sleep140had hardly any sleep110
got hardly any sleep60got hardly any sleep60



Peter Harvey said...

It's the adverb from hard meaning difficult. There is no adverb difficultly (as Spanish dificilmente) so hardly is used,

Warsaw Will said...

Online Etymology has the meaning of 'barely, scarcely' starting about 1540, so I've just tried to find some early examples at Google Books. Here are a couple from 1547 (from the Calendar of State Papers):

'geometrical demonstrations, which be at those days hardly found in universities'

'Dudley should hardly have audience of him until he reached Brussels'

And two from 1560:

'There shall hardly be anything practised in Scotland by the French faction, but he shall know it'

'Thinks that she will hardly be brought under the rule of discipline'

I can certainly see that 'with difficulty' could be substituted for 'hardly' in these examples, and that the first and third, especially, show how it crosses over into the modern meaning.

Interesting. Thanks for that.

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