Can Hardly Wait or Can’t Hardly Wait?

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!

Short Answer:

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!

Long Answer:

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.

Conclusion:

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.

14 comments

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  1. contessadt@gmail.com'

    Tessa says:

    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    “…in other words, you are very excited about something and don’t wait to wait for it.” Sorry, I only got this far in your article. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Shouldn’t that be ‘want to wait’ instead of ‘wait to wait'”? I’m not proficient in grammar, but this looks like an error to me. I feel like I can’t trust you on grammatical issues! *dramatic hand to forehead gesture* Have a lovely day!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 21, 2018 at 7:13 pm

      Ah, yes. It should be “want to wait” and has been fixed. Thanks for the heads-up, Tessa!

      Reply

  2. gamirat@gmail.com'

    Gamini says:

    Jul 28, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Hi,Tanya

    I can’t hardly simply means ‘ I can’

    I can hardly means ‘I cant’

    So Tanya end of the story

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 03, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Hi Gamini,

      Are you saying that “I can’t hardly wait” means “I can wait”? I don’t think that’s usually the intended meaning, though.

      Reply

  3. vitosudomo@gmail.com'

    Vito Sudomo says:

    Mar 01, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Finally I found someone that explains my logic. Because I have been analysing this expression and the words construction doesn’t make sense for me. Thank you Tanya.
    I’m not an english native speaker but I have been learning english since the fifth grade and I still can’t speak and write good english.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 01, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks for letting me know this post was useful for you, Vito! You made my day. :)

      Language learning can take a long time, but don’t give up! Your comment was well written, so your English is probably better than you think!

      Reply

  4. thebeefmaster@pldi.net'

    Michael J Gregory says:

    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    In 1969 my 85 year old 6th grade teacher, Miss Margret, had much to say on this phrase. I can hardly wait is correct if there will be a time delay between saying it and the actual happening of it. Can’t wait, almost universally misused, means there will be no time delay between saying it and doing it. Can’t hardly wait is never correct.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 19, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Michael! I think it’s great that your teacher made such an impression on you that you remember her words of wisdom many years later. I wonder what she meant by no time delay, though. Maybe, for example, you’re stepping into a roller coaster as you’re saying “I can’t wait to go on this roller coaster”?

      Reply

  5. mairelon@gmail.com'

    Max Smith says:

    Jan 03, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Whatever proper English is, I don’t agree with you analysis. Look at this website
    http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/29559/can-hardly-wait-versus-cant-hardly-wait

    Saying ‘ I can hardly wait’ seems to me per my listed website above to be using ‘with difficulty’ as the meaning of ‘hardly, ie ‘I can with difficulty wait. ‘

    Saying ‘I can’t hardly wait’ seems to use the ‘barely, scarcely’ meanings of ‘hardly,’ ie ‘I can’t even barely wait for the small amount of time it will take. I am that excited.’

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 05, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Max,

      In my “long answer” section above, I agreed with you that the construction “can’t hardly” is possible, but I would still advise against using it because many people think it’s incorrect. You can see from the other posts and comments in the website you listed that it’s controversial, so I suggest teaching students to avoid it. If you use it, just be prepared to defend your choice. You explained it well in your comment, though the site you listed noted that the meaning “with difficulty” is pretty much obsolete. I’d say that “can hardly wait” means “can barely/scarcely” wait.

      Reply

  6. enrjql710@naver.com'

    Summer says:

    Dec 11, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for the useful postings. I can hardly wait to see your other writings!

    Reply

  7. internap@yahoo.com'

    Dawood says:

    Aug 06, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Interesting! I have not studied English grammar deeply enough to browse the different views of the grammarians on one issue. The arguments here are similar to that which we study in Arabic grammar, drawing a conclusion using grammar fundamentals as well as famous written works.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 06, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I love hearing about the grammar in other languages. :)

      Reply

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