What's the difference?

I'm having hard time figuring that out

I'm having a hard time figuring that out

According to Google both are used equally often. Does the article change meaning here?

  • possible duplicate of Is it "comedy" or "a comedy"? – kiamlaluno Feb 7 '11 at 8:53
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    @kiamlaluno: I don't think so. That's about the specific word "comedy", for which both "comedy" and "a comedy" are meaningful. – ShreevatsaR Feb 7 '11 at 9:00

It's odd that Google returns equally frequent hits. This is a common English colloquialism in its complete form (a hard time) but hearing/reading it without the indefinite article makes it sound distinctly broken to my English ears - as though someone with a Slavic tongue has characteristically dropped it.

It's possible that those who have not been familiar with the phrase since early childhood would assume that the article is unnecessary, since the "time" to which it refers is ongoing and without specific limits. However, the pattern is the same as it would be with any other adjectival modifier e.g. "having a good time," "having an interesting time" or even "having a quick nap."

In fact, the adjective-noun pair "Hard Time" (without article) is a different concept in English - another colloquialism for an extended and unpleasant period of imprisonment for crimes committed. Therefore hard, more than most adjectives in this circumstance, needs to retain the indefinite article.

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    +1. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 574 cites for "having a hard time", but only 2 cites for "having hard time". Also, many of those Google hits for "having hard time" seem to be titles, and articles are dropped in titles all the time (as VonC points out in his answer). – RegDwigнt Feb 7 '11 at 10:52

I am a native of the US and have lived in several regions. In daily US English, the correct phrasing is "having a hard time." When I hear someone say "having hard time," I take it as a dead giveaway that the person is not comfortable in US English. There is a similar phrase "sentenced to hard time" (without the "a" preposition) which means that a criminal has been confined to a prison where manual labor is obligatory.

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    No different in UK English – Colin Fine Feb 7 '11 at 17:32
  • Yeah, I was going to add that it's universally having a hard time :) – Jimi Oke Feb 8 '11 at 1:25

You might find an equal usage for "hard time" and "a hard time", I would still use:

I'm having a hard time figuring that out

The other form is mainly used in titles for articles/blog posts, like:

Some legal immigrants having a hard time obtaining a driver's license

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