Soft is used to describe something that's soft.

  • That ball is soft, I think we need to get some air into the ball.

Hard is used to describe something that's hard.

  • The ball is now hard.

Or, to express strictness, eagerness, or difficulty.

  • He's hard on his little girl.
  • I work very hard.
  • That game is so hard to complete.

Softly is used when something is handled softly or something like that.

  • He closed the door softly.

BUT! Hardly won't work that way... as far as Lexico and Cambrdige goes, they don't mean or to express something's hardness. Instead, it'll be used like:

  • I've hardly managed to complete the game.
  • I hardly work. (It's complete opposite of "I work very hard"!)
  • You're hardly hitting me.

What makes me confusing is, any other word like harden, harder, hardest, can mean to express something's hardness, or make something harder. Still, we can't use hardly in a sentence like this:

  • He shut the door hard.

Why can't we just use hardly instead of hard? I do actually feel weird that if we use hardly in that sentence, but why? What is the origin of this?

In my native language, as far as I know we don't have "softly" equivalent word to close a door, but in English, we do. So why not close it "hardly"?

  • I suppose we don't use hardly as an antonym of softly because the other meaning (scarcely) has become so much more common. Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 14:40
  • @Void No, not really. Actually, when I was writing this question, ell's automated system suggested that question - I still couldn't find my main question's answer; My main question is, as my question's title says, "Why can't hardly represent the hardness of an object?", not that I am concerned about the difference between hard and hardly. And I understand the difference itself, I think.
    – Skye-AT
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 20:11
  • @Skye: The title of the linked question is kinda misleading but the answers do answer your question. (They're more or less the same as the answer below which makes it a dupe of that one.)
    – Void
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 20:19
  • @Void Ah. Sorry, I just read first answer and not the other one. Then indeed that answer answers this question.
    – Skye-AT
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


It seems that, a long time ago (~ 1200 AD) "hardly" was used to mean what we might expect it to mean : "in a hard manner; with great exertion or effort"

Over time, the meaning changed a little, but still related to hardness : "not easily; with trouble"

This new meaning quickly (~ 1540 AD) changed to the current meaning : "barely; just"

This gradual change in meaning is why we can hardly use "hardly" to mean "hardly" !!


  • Interesting. I wonder why it has changed like this... I guess only linguist knows it?
    – Skye-AT
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 19:39
  • 1
    @Skye-AT: Because language is always changing and language change is unavoidable. For instance, the word 'nice' once meant ignorant but today it means pleasant/attractive/cool.
    – Void
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 20:02
  • @Void Oh, yeah that's true. Here in my country, language is always changing and evolving. I think of language as a living organism, but I just wondered why it has changed that way.
    – Skye-AT
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 20:07

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