Barely/hardly can I do it for you

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TommyGun

Senior Member
Hi!

My friend asks me to do some illegal service for him. I should politely deny. What way would be more appropriate?
Barely can I do it for you. It's prohibited, I could be fired.
Hardly can I do it for you. It's prohibited, I could be fired.
 
  • icecreamsoldier

    Senior Member
    New Zealand English
    I would say something like:
    "As much as I would like to help you, I can't."
    "I would love to help you but I can't."
    "Sorry, my hands are tied."

    ...any of which could be followed by the explanation, "It's prohibited; I could be fired." or more casually (it's a friend, after all), "I'm not allowed, or else I could get fired."
     

    Yondlivend

    Senior Member
    American English
    A few more options:

    I'm sorry but I can't do that for you. It's prohibited, I could be fired.
    Sorry, but I can't do that for you. It's prohibited, I could be fired.
    I'm afraid (that) I can't do that for you. It's prohibited, I could be fired.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    As a form of refusal, we can say "I can hardly do that", meaning that I am not able to do it because it's wrong or because it will have serious consequences. It's very appropriate to use in the context you provide, when the thing asked is morally wrong or illegal.
    We can't use 'barely' in this context.


    "I can barely do that" has a completely different meaning. It means "I can do that, but not very well or only with great difficulty." "I can barely lift the suitcase. It is very heavy."
    We could use hardly with this meaning as well.
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    Thanks, Cagey!

    Just for comparison, can we use scarcely instead of barely with the same meaning?
    I can scarcely do that. It's illegal.
    Isit right that scarcely is merely more formal than hardly?

    And another point. I used inversion initially, but you have avoided this. Doesn't the inverted sentence sound naturally?
    Hardly can I do that. It's illegal.
     

    icecreamsoldier

    Senior Member
    New Zealand English
    Just for comparison, can we use scarcely instead of barely with the same meaning?
    I can scarcely do that. It's illegal.
    Isit right that scarcely is merely more formal than hardly?
    "scarcely" is very formal and you shouldn't use it when talking to a friend. Other than that, it would probably be understood correctly in this context.
    And another point. I used inversion initially, but you have avoided this. Doesn't the inverted sentence sound naturally?
    Hardly can I do that. It's illegal.
    The inversion in your sentence sounds very unnatural.
     

    Moon Palace

    Senior Member
    French
    Couldn't we also say: I can't but refuse to do that?
    As regards the inversion with hardly, I believe that Tommygun, you got confused with such sentences as Hardly had he gone out that the rain stopped.
     

    TRINTYA

    Member
    English American
    Your inverted way does not sound natural in American English and the use of barely and hardly is kind of out of context in American as well. But if you really want to use one of those words you can say this. "I can not do what you are asking of me, it is hardly legal." The use of barely really does not make any sense in your case. An example of the use of barely would be. He was running so fast, I could barely keep up. I barely ate the food, it was horrible. Hardly could also be substituted too. However saying barely legal has a totally different meaning here in the US. It means you are just shy of being 18 years old.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I don't think barely fits the context, but hardly could work:

    I can hardly agree to do that for you.

    Putting hardly first does not make the sentence wrong (it makes grammatical sense), but the emphasis is wrong for this context.
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    I can hardly agree to do that for you.

    Putting hardly first does not make the sentence wrong (it makes grammatical sense), but the emphasis is wrong for this context.
    Am I right about the emphasis?
    Hardly can I agree to do that for you. (Hardly applies to can, so the emphasis is on my ability, which may sound ridiculous.)
    I can hardly agree to do that for you. (The emphasis is on agree, the sentence conveys the meaning the proper way.)
     
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