I wrote the sentence

Fiona goes to the theater once in a blue moon.

which means that

Fiona rarely goes to the theater.

Can I use hardly instead of rarely in the sentence?, resulting in

Fiona hardly goes to the theater.

Or must I use hardly ever? A dictionary cannot answer this question.

  • 1
    I found "Fiona hardly goes to the theater" fine at a glance, although thinking about it and reading the answers, "Fiona hardly ever goes to the theater" does sound better. However, if you want to say that she used to, but doesn't go very much anymore, the way to say it would be "Fiona hardly goes to the theater these days/anymore/now/etc."
    – Au101
    Sep 16, 2016 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


You use hardly to say:

  • only just; almost not:
  • To convey the meaning of "rarely" you have to use "hardly ever".
  • I could hardly hear her at the back. The party had hardly started when she left. He hardly ate anything/He ate hardly anything. We hardly ever (= almost never) go to concerts. Hardly had a moment passed before the door creaked open.

(Cambridge Dictiinary)

  • 2
    However, the "ever" may be omitted and you'll still be understood. In that sense, "hardly" is often used in place of "barely" nowadays. Sep 16, 2016 at 14:29
  • 2
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit It might just be me, but omitting the "ever" sounds off to my ear.
    – ghoppe
    Sep 16, 2016 at 16:57
  • 1
    @ghoppe: I hardly hear the phrase with the "ever" present :) Sep 16, 2016 at 16:57
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit to me that means you struggle to hear it. I can hardly hear you over the noise of the airport. Etc... I'm with ghoppe. To mean you rarely do something you would say you hardly ever do it.
    – Fogmeister
    Sep 16, 2016 at 17:23
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I live in Central Canada, and it's not a matter of whether you'll be understood, it's a matter of whether you'll sound like a native speaker — which is what ELL is all about. It seems I'm not alone in believing saying "hardly" by itself for "rarely" is unidiomatic. Whew.
    – ghoppe
    Sep 16, 2016 at 19:27

Yes, for that specific example.

For discrete things like going to the theatre I'd take the "ever" as implied or even unnecessary.

With a variable thing like eating "hardly" and "hardly ever" are fairly different:
"Hardly eats" vs "Hardly ever eats" => "doesn't eat very much" vs "doesn't eat very often"
In the first example the total amount of food eaten is small but there's no comment on frequency and in the second there's a long time between meals but no indication of how large each meal is.

But for binary things, like going to the theatre, they mean much the same thing. This is because you can't go to the theatre "a little bit"; you either go or you don't. As such having a low total amount of visits to the theatre and not visiting very often are the same.

Or at least that's my perspective as a native speaker of British English.


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