hardly, hardly ever, hardly any

Surgeon

Pual from Thailand writes:

I've learned that the words hardly and rarely have the same meaning and that moreover we can use these words interchangeably in any sentence. Is this right or wrong?

Roger Woodham replies:

They are not quite interchangeable as they stand, but need some modification first of all. If we add ever to hardly to arrive at hardly ever, then this is synonymous with rarely and also with seldom.

hardly ever

These adverbs describe how frequently or regularly something happens. Thus along a spectrum of frequency, starting with most frequent and ending with least frequent, we might find the following:

  • Well doctor? I always have two meat rolls for breakfast. Without fail. Every day.
  • I usually have poached eggs on toast at the weekend.
    Not every weekend. But most weekends.
  • I often / frequently have