Hardly, scarcely, barely, seldom, rarely and hardly ever: What’s the difference?

I was recently asked the difference between

hardly, scarcely, barely, seldom, rarely and hardly ever

so let me explain:

Hardly, scarcely and barely refer to how easily something happens. However, as all the words have a negative nuance, it means that the event is/was or will be difficult, and is/was or will be only just achieved

Hardly emphasizes the difficulty. e.g. I could hardly endure the pain.

Scarcely suggests a very narrow success margin which is unsatisfactory. e.g. He can scarcely read.

Barely stresses the narrowness of the success margin. e.g. We barely succeeded.

They are quite synonymous (i.e. they have very similar meanings, so can therefore be used interchangeably for the most part).


Seldom, rarely and hardly ever refer to how often something happens, although again, as they have a negative nuance they all mean the event doesn’t happen very often at all.


So what’s the difference between hardly and hardly ever?

Try these questions to see if you know:

1A: How much did you learn?

B: I _______ learned anything.


2A: How often do you go there?

B:  ________.


3A: I’m so fat.

B: No, you’re not! You _______ eat!


Let me know you’re answers and I’ll post the correct answers next time.

Then write me your own examples using each of the words.

You may be tested on this in TOEIC Reading Part 5, or Eiken but just knowing how to use the words correctly for general conversation will really help you sound more like a natural English speaker.







Hardly, scarcely, barely, seldom, rarely and hardly ever: What’s the difference?」への4件のフィードバック

  1. My answers are : 1 hardly 2 hardly ever 3 hardly

    I’ll write the sentences using ” Barely, Hardly, and Hardly ever ” .

    I’ve stayed at home for 2days without going out.
    I had BARELY enough food to eat , but I HARDLY had meals because of a cold.
    I’ve HARDLY EVER experienced such a thing .
    If my condition is good, I can HARDLY put up with drinking and eating.
    I can HARDLY wait for the complete recovery.
    Yes, I looove drinking !

  2. Well done, Yuki. Your answers are correct. You could also use hardly ever in no. 3.
    In your examples you could say you hardly ate because of your cold.
    I didn’t fully understand your fourth sentence. Remember, to ‘put up with’ means to ‘endure’ so it is about a negative situation. Your sentence means that you don’t want to eat and drink if you feel well, but you have to endure it. I don’t think that’s what you really meant, right?!

  3. Thanks for teaching.
    I made a mistake , you’re right,
    ” If my condition were good, I could fully enjoy drinking and eating .”
    About the 4th sentence, I wanted to say that ” I’ve hardly ever experienced such a bad cold ” .

  4. Now I understand. It would be more natural to say ‘If I felt completely well…’. We don’t use ‘my condition’ in this situation really.



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