An essay in a university entrance exam begins with these words:

Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Hardly had any other artist of his time created as many works.

To test the reader's comprehension the following question is asked:

True (T) or False (F)?
1. No other artist had painted as many pictures as Picasso.

The teachers who wrote the test believe that (according to the essay) the answer is "true". I and many of the students believe the answer is "false".

The cause of the confusion is this. Does the sentence "Hardly had any other artists of his time created as many works." mean that no other artists (absolutely nobody) created as many works as Picasso? How should the word "hardly" be understood. Does it mean "barely" or does it mean "not at all"?

  • 1
    "Hardly any" isn't quite the same as "none". But also, "hardly any" and "hardly had any" aren't the same either.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 3, 2017 at 11:52
  • Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Hardly had any other artist of his time created as many works. ----------- True (T) or False (F)? 1. No other artist had painted as many pictures as Picasso. is this sentense true or false? I think it is false
    – maia
    Aug 3, 2017 at 11:55
  • 1
    hardly any means little amount and no other means absolutly nobody
    – maia
    Aug 3, 2017 at 12:09
  • 4
    A question about this same text was asked yesterday on ELU. It's important to note that the syntax of the second sentence is so unusual it's highly unlikely to have been written by a native speaker. The normal form would be Hardly any other artist of his time [had] created as many works (in practice had probably wouldn't be included at all, but if it was used, that's where it would go). The "logic" question as posed here is trivial, since hardly any means only a few, not none, as any dictionary should show. Aug 3, 2017 at 12:14
  • 2
    The sentence beginning with hardly isn't a sentence but a fragment. Hardly had... begins a clause that cannot stand on its own. "Hardly had we gotten in the door..." You need to say Hardly any other artists had created... And that just addresses the grammar. Semantically it's a different problem.
    – TimR
    Aug 3, 2017 at 14:34

2 Answers 2


When you posted this on English Stackexchange you indicated that this is a question from an exam and that the test creators believe the correct answer is "true" while most of the students believe it is "false". The two sides are disputing the meaning of "hardly any".

The dispute about the meaning of "hardly" is not the only problem with this question. It also contains two grammatical errors which change the meaning in surprising ways. To keep things simple, I will consider these one at a time.

What "Hardly" Means

The sentence does not say "hardly any", but let us pretend for a moment that it does, like this:

Hardly any other artist of his time created as many works.

Here "hardly" means "with difficulty" (Merriam Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hardly). It refers to a position on a question which is difficult to maintain. Look how it is used in this dialog:

John: Who ate all the potato chips?

Sam: I didn't eat them all.

John: But there are hardly any left!

Sam has eaten almost all of the potato chips. The few small pieces and crumbs which he has left at the bottom of the bag are not a proper portion. It is "hard" or difficult to maintain the position that he has left "any" for John.

So there may be very few artists who created as many works as Picasso. They may not be well known. They may not be very good artists. All these things make identifying them "hard". People may argue with you about it. But "hardly any" does not mean none.

So whence comes the idea that "hardly" means "not at all"? To get there we start with a sentence like this:

You can hardly suppose that I would eat potato chips.

The speaker is asserting that it is well known that he does not eat potato chips at all. Thus it would be "hard" for someone to think that he would. This is frequently shortened to:

I would hardly eat potato chips.

It now seems as if "hardly" means "probably not" or even "certainly not". Such definitions can be found in dictionaries, but not as the first meaning. But this meaning only applies to matters of opinion, to what can be "supposed" to be true or false. It does not apply to questions of quantity.

In questions of quantity, time, or measurement "hardly" means "with very little room to spare". For example:

There was hardly a person on the street. (very few)

There was hardly enough to eat. (just enough to survive or not to be hungry)

I had hardly finished the test when the bell rang. (almost no time to spare)

Incorrect Tense

The verb "create" should have been put in the simple past tense, "created". The narrator is trying to make a simple statement about what Picasso accomplished during his lifetime. He is not telling a story.

The narrator has mistakenly used "had created" which is the past perfect. The past perfect is used when telling stories in order to describe a sequence of events. For example:

I had graduated from university only two weeks ago when I got my first job.

First the narrator takes us to a date two weeks after the completion of his education. This creates a certain context and expectation in our minds. That he found work is now natural and expected.

Now consider this sentence (which is not in the test):

Hardly any other artist of his time had created as many works.

This takes us to a time in Picasso's life when there were very few artists who had created so many works. We will be wanting to know what happened next.

I do not think the author of the test intended the implications of using the past perfect tense.

Misplaced Verb

But that is not the end of our difficulties with this sentence. The author has not written "hardly any other artists had created". He has written "hardly had any other artist...created". The modifier "hardly" has been mistakenly attached to the verb instead of "other artist".

As a result, the sentence asks us to consider what happened immediately after each time when any other artist created as many works as Picasso. After setting up this situation the sentence just breaks off without telling us how Picasso responded. Were were expecting something like this:

Hardly had any other artist of his time created as many works than Picasso would quickly paint 100 more to get ahead again.

I do not think this is the sort of idea the writer intended to convey.


The writer probably intended to say:

No other artist of his time came close to creating as many works.

But the sentence he actually wrote contains three separate errors. These errors change the meaning in ways he did not expect. The word "hardly" does not refer to the number of other artists at all. Instead it refers to how soon the response came when another artists exceeded Picasso's record. It then breaks off without completing the thought. It is a sentence fragment.

If the word "had" were removed from both places in the test question, then "hardly" would become attached to "any other artist of his time". But because this would be a how-many construction, "hardly" would mean "very few", not "not at all" as it would in a could-one-think construction.

Since the second sentence is garbled, it is not appropriate to grade students on their answers to this question. It should be ignored when scoring the test.


I think inversion grammar has been used in the sentence "Hardly had any other artist of his time created as many works. " the normal one should be: any other artist of his time had hardly created as many works (as Picasso).

this kind of inversion is to emphasize "hardly", implying very few artist of his time can create as many work as Picasso does.

just like another inversion case: "Seldom does one hear a politician say ‘sorry’."

the normal order is "one seldom hears a politician say ‘sorry’."

hope this would help.

  • but I ma not interested in the inversion. i wonder if these sentences are exactly the same in meaning.does hardly any artists means that no other artists had created as many works as picasso.are hardly any and no other synonyms
    – maia
    Aug 4, 2017 at 6:39
  • some teachers claim that hardly any and no other are 99% same? is it true
    – maia
    Aug 4, 2017 at 6:47

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