I sometimes read sentences starting with "We can scarcely admit that..." Does it mean we cannot admit, or we can admit but not easily, or something else? What does it mean exactly? The dictionary meaning of scarcely does not give me anything meaningful.

  • What dictionary did you use? Try Collins, definition 2, or Oxford, definition 1.2., or M-W definition 2.a. – StoneyB Feb 20 '18 at 13:42
  • It's characteristically a rhetorical hedge: "We don't go so far as to say that X is definitely impossible, but for our purposes we feel most readers will agree to dismiss that possibility ..." The writer may or may not return to the point later, either to confirm or deny it. – StoneyB Feb 20 '18 at 14:01

Something is scarce if there is not much of it.

Scarcely X means "doing not much of X". Often it implies the minimum amount of action/etc. to be considered X.

Can scarcely X = "able to do not much of X" = "not able to do much X" - typically due to difficulty or other problems. "We can scarcely admit that ..." essentially means it's extremely difficult to admit X.

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