Do you work Hard? ...or hardly work?

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A student of mine was really excited to tell me, "I worked HARDLY on my homework." I think I know what she meant, but that's not what she said.

What do you think the problem with her sentence was? Today, we'll learn.

This is something I teach at the pre-intermediate levels. But even my advanced students make this mistake.

What's the difference between HARD and HARDLY? Easy, right? One's an adjective and one's an adverb. Well, it's not so simple.

HARD is an adjective to describe a surface. Wood and metal are hard surfaces. We also use HARD as a synonym for difficult. An activity can be hard physically, like construction work, weight lifting or gymnastics. Or it can be hard mentally, like math homework, like accounting. Or it can be hard emotionally, like heartbreak or divorce.

We often hear the expression: HARD WORK. Here, WORK is a noun, and work is the adjective describing it. It means: a large amount of effort.

HARD WORK: a large amount of effort.

Another expression we use is: WORK HARD. But in this case, work is a verb and hard describes how we work. We can use a few other verbs for example: Try hard. I try hard every day to improve my English. On Friday nights, after a long work week, I play hard with my friends. Whenever I go to the gym, I train hard. It means to do these activities with more effort.

I often hear from my students, "He works hardly" and this is a mistake. We shouldn't use HARDLY here.

We can say, "He works hard" or "He hardly works" but the meaning is not the same. In fact, the meaning is almost exactly the opposite.

So what does HARDLY mean? It means 'almost not'. There's hardly anything to eat in the fridge. There was hardly anybody at the theater. I hardly ever go to the gym these days. I hardly ever write letters anymore.

We can use HARDLY with other verbs meaning “almost the negative” of those verbs.

We can use HARDLY with other verbs meaning "almost the negative" of those verbs. He can hardly see without his glasses. It means: he almost can't see without his glasses. He hardly slept last night. He only slept for two hours. He's exhausted! My son hardly ate his dinner. No dessert for him.

So now you can see why this mistake is confusing. Because "He works HARD" and "He HARDLY works" are almost exactly the opposite.

‘He works HARD’ and ‘He HARDLY works’ mean the opposite.

We work hard to make these videos every week. Well, I work HARD He HARDLY works.

Now it's your turn. Tell me, in the comments below, first: when do you work hard? and second, when do you hardly work? Do you have an English question? Type it in the comments below and I'll try to make a video for you.

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