1 almost not: I hadn't seen him for years but he had hardly changed at all. | can/could hardly do sth: The children were so excited they could hardly speak. | I can hardly believe it. | hardly anyone/anything (=almost no one or almost nothing): Hardly anyone writes to me these days. | hardly any (=very few): There are hardly any cookies left. | hardly ever (=almost never): She hardly ever wore a hat. | hardly a day goes by when/without (=used to say that something happens almost every day or every week): Hardly a day goes by when I don't think of her.—see almost2 used to say that something had only just happened or someone had only just done something: The day had hardly begun, and he felt exhausted already.3 used to say that something is not at all true, possible, correct etc: It's hardly what I'd call the perfect relationship. | hardly surprising: It was hardly surprising you didn't pass your exam. | hardly the time/place/person (=a very unsuitable time, place, person): This is hardly the place to talk about our marriage problems. | you can/could hardly do sth (=it would not be sensible to do it): You could hardly blame Jane for being nervous. | could hardly be: The message could hardly be clearer. | hardly a child/beginner etc: He was fifteen - hardly a kid.USAGE NOTE: HARDLY GRAMMAR Hardly is a negative word, so it is not used with another negative word: hardly any pollution (NOT hardly no pollution) | We could hardly believe our eyes (NOT We couldn't hardly believe our eyes...). Hardly usually comes just before the main verb: He could hardly hear her (NOT He hardly could hear her). Hardly is used at the beginning of sentences only in very formal or old-fashioned writing. People would say, and usually write: The game had hardly begun when it started to rain (compare the formal: Hardly had the game begun when it started to rain...). Hardly is not the adverb of hard: You say: I tried hard to remember. | She works very hard (NOT hardly).
Longman dictionary of contemporary English. 2004.