I have always found the pronounced distinction in meaning between "studying hard" and "hardly studying" a bit amusing.

What is the origin of the word hardly?

How is it etymologically connected to the word hard?

  • N.B. As RegDwight's citation points out, the meanings are opposite, so the distinction is not subtle, but pronounced: hence the humor.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 14:40
  • @Robusto, acknowledged.
    – user1784
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 15:03
  • Touched upon in Do All Adverbs End in "-Ly"?, section "What Are Flat Adverbs?". Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 16:30
  • interesting you can also say "I studied hardly" and that can tend to mean more that you studied a lot.
    – Claudiu
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 0:05
  • 1
    @Claudiu: You probably shouldn't say "I studied hardly" though, since it sounds rather odd and is quite ambiguous. I wouldn't interpret it as meaning "I studied a lot" unless that was implied very strongly by its context. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 17:11

3 Answers 3


Wiktionary definition of Hardly has four meanings. Out of the four, only one is in contemporary use, or so it seems(Hardly, as in barely, scarcely etc..)

hardly (comparative more hardly, superlative most hardly)

  1. (manner, obsolete) Firmly, vigorously, with strength or exertion.
  2. (manner, archaic) Harshly, severely. I can't really deal hardly with people.
  3. (manner, obsolete) With difficulty. He made his way hardly through the enemies to the castle.
  4. (degree) Barely, only just, almost not. I hardly ever watch television. I hardly think they'll come in this bad weather. It is hardly possible he could lose the election.

Etymologically, the meanings makes sense with all the first three. But modern usage tends to favour the fourth meaning more


Etymonline has this:

hardly 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).


"Hard" means difficult. No confusion there.

"Hardly means "difficult to COME BY." That is something is BARELY there, or "conspicuous by its (near) absence." That appears to be the etymology. It is NOT an adverb of "hard," which is why it is confusing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.