Since the meanings of the words harsh and hard are similar but not the same, does "harsh on" make sense?

For example:

Calm down you shouldn't be too harsh on him.

  • 1
    Seems fine to me. I would hazard a guess that hard is more common here but I might be wrong.
    – mdewey
    Mar 11, 2021 at 15:06
  • 1
    It does not. You are harsh with or harsh to someone, but not harsh on someone. Mar 11, 2021 at 15:12
  • 2
    @FeliniusRex I have to disagree; it's perfectly fluent to say harsh on someone. For example, "You're trying to tell me I was too harsh on him?" and We feel it only fair that we be equally harsh on you
    – stangdon
    Mar 11, 2021 at 15:38
  • 2
    I agree with @stangdon. It is interesting to see how some people object to this usage, to which I wouldn't give a second thought. I also think the Ngram chart included in the accepted answer is flawed. This chart is more objective.
    – Eddie Kal
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:41

2 Answers 2


“Harsh on” may be acceptable, but “harsh to” is far more common.


  • 3
    I think these can have different uses. One is harsh to a friend, but harsh on their children, for example. (In that case, it's more common to say one is hard on their children, but I think harsh works too.)
    – TypeIA
    Mar 11, 2021 at 15:17
  • @TypeIA I did not say “harsh on” is ungrammatical; I said and provided evidence that it is quite rare. I am not sure we materially disagree. Mar 11, 2021 at 16:22
  • Indeed, that's why I upvoted!
    – TypeIA
    Mar 11, 2021 at 18:13
  • 1
    @TypeIA Ahh. Thank you. I misread the intent of your comment. Mar 11, 2021 at 19:08
  • 4
    The Ngram chart is not a fair comparison because instances like "harsh to + Verb" such as "seems harsh to say" or "harsh to be", or collocations with nouns where "harsh on" wouldn't be used such as "sounds harsh to our ears" are a thumb on the scale for "harsh to". You need to include a pronoun in the comparison to make it a fair race. Check out this chart.
    – Eddie Kal
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:36

I don't think anyone would look at you wrong if you said it, but using harsh instead of hard is probably more of a malapropism in most cases. That being said, because English is so fluid, "harsh on" could easily become more normal if it's used more.

  • 3
    It's not a malapropism, because harsh and hard are synonyms in this particular usage. However, the phrase "hard on" is an idiom with no sensible literal meaning. As such, changing it is understandable, but a bit weird. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot rod. :-)
    – jpaugh
    Mar 11, 2021 at 23:53

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