only just; almost not; barely: We had hardly reached the lake when it started raining. hardly any; hardly ever.
not at all; scarcely: That report is hardly surprising.
with little likelihood: He will hardly come now.
forcefully or vigorously.
with pain or difficulty.
British. harshly or severely.

1175–1225; Middle English; Old English heardlice. See hard, -ly

barely, hardly, scarcely (see synonym study at the current entry).

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.

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 Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
Cite This Source Link To hardly
World English Dictionary
hardly (ˈhɑːdlɪ)
1.  scarcely; barely: we hardly knew the family
2.  just; only just: he could hardly hold the cup
3.  ironic often almost or probably not or not at all: he will hardly incriminate himself
4.  with difficulty or effort
5.  rare harshly or cruelly
usage  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 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Cite This Source
Word Origin & History

c.1200, "in a hard manner, with energy and force," from hard (q.v.). Main modern sense of "barely, just" (1550s) reverses this, via the intermediate meaning "not easily, with trouble." Formerly with superficial negative (not hardly).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source
Example sentences
The sort of thing that used to happen only in fiction can hardly compare to
  what's in the news today.
But his ambitions could hardly be realized by a nation at war with itself.
The threat to his life's work could hardly have come at a worse moment.
My point is that common naming traditions are hardly inaccurate.
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature