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In the OALD definition, there is a sentence:

Hardly had she spoken than she regretted it bitterly.

But on the same page, there is a line,

Note that you usually use when in these sentences, not than... No sooner can be used in the same way, but is always used with than

So I am a little confused here. Is the example sentence wrong? If it is correct, what are the instances when we use than with hardly?

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The key in this case is word order.

The "No sooner" part of the "No sooner...than..." construct is always at the beginning of the sentence. However, the word "hardly" is more flexible with regards to its order in the sentence. In American English usage, the word order for that example sentence would not be "Hardly had she spoken...," but more likely, "She had hardly spoken...."

In the example you cite, the word "Hardly" is put at the beginning of the sentence, in the same spirit as "No sooner." For this reason, using "than" instead of "when" in this case does not seem unnatural; "hardly" sits in for "no sooner." However, if you were to try to use "than" with "hardly" when it's not at the beginning, e.g., "She had hardly spoken than she regretted it," it would sound wrong, at least to an American speaker.

All of that said, let these two examples serve as ones to imitate: (1) "No sooner had she spoken than she regretted it bitterly." (2) "She had hardly spoken when she realized she shouldn't have said anything."

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    The link that I cited above has this line: "Hardly/Scarcely had we sat down at the table, when the phone rang. Note that you usually use when in these sentences, not than. " – Ramit Feb 12 '14 at 6:04
  • Agreed. Using "than" is a strain with the words hardly and scarcely. My answer only elaborates on the possibility of "than" as probably an unintentional mixing up of usage with "no sooner...than...". – semperos Feb 12 '14 at 15:27

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