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How To Use ‘Hardly’ in A Sentence

In this post, we will explore how to use ‘hardly’ in English sentences. This is because in my years of proofreading, I found that the use of ‘hardly’ has been mistaken as ‘difficult’. The use of -ly behind the word ‘hard’ causes confusion with non-native English speakers where it is easy to assume the use is similar to that of quickly, accidentally, or cheerfully. Identifying how to use ‘hardly’ in a sentence will allow for effective communication.

Before moving forward with learning how to use ‘hardly’, it is important to know that such misunderstanding is found among Malaysians specifically. Our culture, habits, and perspectives shape our understanding and this is what makes us unique. Although this blog post aims to show the correct way of using ‘hardly’ from a native speaker’s understanding, it is in no way has any grounds or intention of insulting or shaming a cultural norm. The aim of this post, as with the content in this blog, is to provide learning for effective communication with YOUR global audience.

What ‘Hardly’ Means

Hardly carries the meaning of ‘jarang-jarang‘, as in scarcely, not often, or a little. It is used when describing frequency, or to describe the degree of quality of a statement. Don’t feel intimidated by the definitions of the word ‘Hardly’ as this will be clearer as we go through the examples later in this blog.

Besides carrying the meaning of ‘jarang-jarang‘, the word also carries the meaning ‘ada lah sikit-sikit‘. This is how ‘Hardly’ is often used conversationally and is important to understand that. If one had a different understanding of this word while in a conversation’, this could cause the conversation to end or worse, a misunderstanding.

Just as important as understanding what the word means, it is also important to know what the word doesn’t mean.

What It Is Not

‘Hardly’ does not carry the meaning of ‘bersungguh-sungguh’. Nor does it carry the meaning of ‘sekeras-kerasnya’. It might be shocking to some but if you considered Bahasa Melayu norms and concepts, you would understand why some people assume hardly means ‘bersungguh-sungguh’ or ‘sekeras-kerasnya’. Do note that I put forth these examples as found from my proofreading tasks.

That said, it is also good if you have this information at the back of your head in case someone uses such word in ways you could not grasp. Having empathy for our fellow non-native speakers is how we move forward with improving our nation’s English literacy. With that, let’s move on to some examples to root your understanding of how to use English language to your advantage.


  1. I hardly knew him.
    This sentence means that the person doesn’t really know that guy. ‘Hardly’ in this sentence shows that the person rarely knows him. It is also safe to assume that the person actually doesn’t know the guy, give or take some information.

    In a situation where I don’t know a person but have seen him at the office during several events, I would say: I hardly know that guy.

    In Bahasa Melayu, the translation of example (1) would be: Saya tak berapa kenal kenal lelaki itu.
  2. She hardly ate her food.
    This sentence means that the lady didn’t really eat her food. ‘Hardly’ in this sentence shows that the lady barely ate her food. It is safe to assume that the lady was not hungry or had no appetite.

    In a situation where I am too busy to finish my lunch, I would say: I hardly had my lunch to finish the presentation.

    In Bahasa Melayu, the translation of example (2) would be: Dia hanya menjamah sedikit makanannya.
  3. They hardly met since the lockdown.
    This sentence means that they had not met one another for quite some time. ‘Hardly’ in this sentence shows that they scarcely met since the lockdown. It is safe to assume that they had not met at all since the lockdown.

    In a situation where I don’t frequent a place, I would say: I hardly go there.

    In Bahasa Bahasa Melayu, the translation of example (3) would be: Mereka jarang berjumpa sejak sekatan pergerakan.

Make Grammar A Habit

I hope the examples above gave more clarity to the use of ‘hardly’ in an English sentence. The use of ‘hardly’ is hardly difficult given we practise what we know and make the use of correct grammar an everyday habit. Just in case you are wondering the difference between everyday and every day, you may read all about it here!

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