Bob has been acting all hard done by.


Senior Member
Hi, can you explain what does 'hard done by' means grammatically (I know its general meaning)?

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Friend #1: "I can't believe the way Bob has been acting all hard done by, ever since he had to pay to get his roof fixed."
Friend #2: "it's pathetic all right...."

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  • sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "It's pathetic all right" means "Bob's behaviour is definitely pathetic".

    "Hard done by" is a passive, but it is best to take it as a set expression and not to try to deconstruct it, because it doesn't work in the active voice: *"Someone did hard by Bob":cross:.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    To do <adverb> by (intr.) = to be dealt with; to treat <in adverb manner>

    To do by is a very old construction that exists now only in this form.

    to do by ——
    1. intr.

    a. To act towards or deal with in a specified way (also also to do right/wrong/etc. by)
    1976 Irish Times 15 July 10/8 A great many of them [sc. repertory companies] do honourably by their audiences.
    1994 P. D. James Original Sin xv. 106 He had slipped away almost unnoticed and unthanked, leaving Matt feeling that somehow they had done badly by the old man.

    and, under "by, prep."
    by = about, concerning, with respect to, in regard to, as concerns:

    Bob has been acting all hard done by, = Bob has been behaving in a manner that implies that he has been dealt with/treated in a completely unjust and unsympathetic manner.


    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    "Be done by", with that meaning, is familiar to anyone who has read Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, in which the two characters, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, appear. The book was standard reading for British children for many years; but I believe Kingsley was less popular in the US than in the UK, which may be a contributing factor to the expression's unfamiliarity to AE speakers.

    To be "hard done by" is of course the same expression with the addition of the adverb "hard"; though, as sound shift says, it has become a set phrase these days.

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