I can hardly wait to discuss this expression!
I can hardly wait is a popular expression in English, along with I can’t wait and I’m looking forward to it. Recently I’ve come across a few instances of I can’t hardly wait. Is this construction possible? Is it grammatical? Let’s take a closer look!
I can hardly wait = Correct
I can’t hardly wait = Incorrect (but see “Long Answer,” below)
Hardly is an adverb that means barely, scarcely, or almost not. I can hardly wait means that you almost can’t wait—in other words, you are very excited about something and don’t want to wait for it.
The main reason that you might hear I can’t hardly wait is that people are mixing two very common expressions (I can’t wait and I can hardly wait) together by mistake. There was also a 1998 movie called Can’t Hardly Wait, which probably added to the confusion. When you say I can’t hardly wait, the meaning is I almost can’t not wait or I don’t find it hard to wait, which is probably not the intended meaning!
Many people have argued that I can’t hardly wait contains a double negative and therefore the meaning is positive. However, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (under the entry for “hardly”), hardly is an approximate negative, not a true negative, and when combined with a true negative, the result is a “weakened negative” expression, not a positive one. Merriam-Webster gives this example:
“I got up and tried to untie her, but I was so excited my hands shook so I couldn’t hardly do anything with them.” —Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, 1884
In that example the character did untie her, but it was difficult to do (i.e., he almost couldn’t make his hands work). If Twain had written “…so I couldn’t do nothing with them,” this double negative would mean that he didn’t untie her (i.e., he did nothing with his hands). Could Twain have written “…so I could hardly do anything with them”? Yes, I believe the meaning would have been the same as with couldn’t hardly—he almost couldn’t untie her, but he did. The bottom line is that can’t hardly is, in fact, possible.
In my opinion, stick with I can hardly wait. The meaning is clear and you will please English teachers and grammarians alike. If you say or write I can’t hardly wait, most people will think you’ve made a mistake, so it’s best to avoid it.