The "Extra Examples" section in the entry of DARE in the Oxford Learner's dict. shows I hardly dared breathe.

Dare here forms its past as a (semi)modal verb, yet the position in the sentence of the adverb, hardly, is not the cannonical one after a modal and before the next main verb. Why is it so?


  • 1
    Until a couple of centuries ago, I dare hardly think was actually more common than I hardly dare think. Obviously that's a shift in idiomacy, not meaning. Nov 19, 2020 at 14:05
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    @FumbleFingers One need hardly be so bold in one’s typography! :) Notice how hardly counts as a negative and so elicits the special uninflected versions of semi-modals (one need not do, one dare not do, one ought not do) that work far more like full modals by taking a bare infinitive not a to infinitive, and which are today restricted to negative and interrogative contexts alone.
    – tchrist
    Nov 19, 2020 at 14:12
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    Changing the adverb position changes the meaning of the sentence. I hardly dared breathe vs I dared (to) hardly breathe. I think that goes part of the way in explaining the word order. Nov 19, 2020 at 14:13
  • oed.com/oed2/00057596 and oed.com/oed2/00102589
    – GJC
    Nov 19, 2020 at 15:00
  • I don't follow this. "Do I dare to eat a peach" seems parallel to "Will he decide to eat," "Can he hope to eat," etc. Such verbs are "modal" for this reason? In each case an adverb seems suitable after the pronoun: will he foolishly decide to, can he still hope to, etc. What's special about the original example is that the word "to" may be omitted from the infinitive, suggesting an analogy to "he can slowly walk," "he must slowly walk" rather than "he slowly can walk," "he slowly must walk"?
    – Chaim
    Nov 19, 2020 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


According to Oxford's "A Practical English Grammar", "dare" is, as you mentioned, a "semi-modal" as well as an auxiliary verb.

Then in the section related to "Adverbs of frequency", such as "hardly", there are two guidelines that can help us understand why "hardly" in this sentence is placed before the auxiliary.

The first guideline is, of course, the one that makes us a little bit confused about your example, it reads:

With compound tenses, they [adverbs of frequency] are placed after the first auxiliary, or, with interrogative verbs, after auxiliary + subject

But the second one may help resolve the confusion by saying:

Frequency adverbs are often placed before auxiliaries when these are used alone, in additions to remarks or in answers to questions:

Can you park your car near the shops? - Yes, I usually can.

and when, in a compound verb, the auxiliary is stressed:

I never can remember.
She hardly ever has met him.

That is probably why in the example you provided, the adverb "hardly" before the auxiliary "dare" sounds natural and is grammatically correct, since the auxiliary "dare" has kind of an emphatic meaning and is naturally stressed in the sentence.

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