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If you want to describe a stretched plastic cable, would you say that it was hardly stretched or strongly stretched?

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Hardly is a confusing word: in modern English, it always means "only a little bit", and is never used as an adverbial form of hard. The adverb corresponding to hard is in fact "hard", as in "He pulled it hard" or "I tried hard", or "They hit him hard". – Colin Fine Oct 26 '12 at 11:08
A question to go with what Colin has explained. – RegDwigнt Oct 26 '12 at 13:44

Actually you say neither.

Hardly stretched means that it is barely stretched at all. (Although I see where your confusion arises) and strongly stretched is not something a native speaker would say.

They would say overstretched in the case it is stretched too much, and tightly stretched when the cable is quite taut but not overly so.

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I have never heard either of these words used with stretched. In fact, the connotation of hardly in the phrase "hardly stretched" means "barely". See the fourth definition from merriam-webster.com:

1 : with force : VIGOROUSLY

2 : in a severe manner : HARSHLY

3 : with difficulty : PAINFULLY

4 : a - used to emphasize a minimal amount < I hardly knew her > < almost new - hardly a scratch on it >

b - used to soften a negative < you can't hardly tell who anyone is - G. B. Shaw >

5 : certainly not < that news is hardly surprising >

While definitions 1 and 2 do mean what you are intending, the phrase is more typically used to mean "barely".

I would use "tightly stretched" to mean something that is stretched as far as it can go.

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Disagree with last assertion; tightly stretched does not imply “stretched as far as it can go”. Yes, a thing that's tightly stretched might be stretched as far as it can be, but in general more stress gives more strain. – jwpat7 Oct 26 '12 at 0:48
I also disagree that (1) and (2) are good fits for the OP's purpose. "Vigorously stretched" and "harshly stretched" are not commonly used phrases. – Kristina Lopez Oct 26 '12 at 1:38
Sorry for the misunderstanding - I was not suggesting "vigorously" or "harshly"; I meant that the OP meant "hardly" for the definitions of "with force" or "in a severe manner" but I was arguing that the use rather implies the 4th definition. – sacohe Oct 26 '12 at 1:54
@Kristina Lopez: Not that common, maybe, but "vigorously stretched" and "stretched vigorously" both occur hundreds of times in Google Books. Not to mention "stretch vigorously" and other variants. – FumbleFingers Oct 26 '12 at 3:03
@FumbleFingers, touche! Yes! Kneading bread dough IS stretching vigorously! Brilliant example! :-) – Kristina Lopez Oct 26 '12 at 3:38

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