I Highly Doubt It or I Hardly Doubt It? (With Examples)

If you hang around a lot of skeptics, you may hear many expressions of doubt. If you know a lot of optimists, you might hear the opposite!

So, when referencing our daily doubts about things, which phrase shall we use? Read on to find out.

I Highly Doubt It or I Hardly Doubt It?

“I highly doubt it” and “I hardly doubt it” are both grammatically correct but mean opposite things.  The first is to doubt something a lot, while the second is to not doubt it much. “I highly doubt it” is used more frequently, since it’s a clearer expression.

I Highly Doubt It or I Hardly Doubt It

At first glance, you may not understand the difference between the phrase “I highly doubt it” and “I hardly doubt it”, but, trust us, they are distinct!

To illustrate this, let’s look at these phrases in their separate parts. Both contain this one: “I doubt it”. So we know that the distinction occurs due to the different meanings of “highly” and “hardly”. 

“Highly” is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “very, to a large degree, or at a high level”. “Hardly” is defined as “only just; almost not”. 

As such, if one highly doubts something, they doubt it a lot, and if they hardly doubt something, they barely doubt it at all!

There is a degree of confusion surrounding the phrase “I hardly doubt it”, as people often mix it up with “I highly doubt it”. This is, perhaps, because it is used infrequently in English but has made an appearance in literature since the 1950s.

What Does “I Highly Doubt It” Mean?

“I highly doubt it” means that the speaker doubts the things being discussed a great deal. Use this phrase when you are unconvinced of the truth or likelihood of something. 

Let’s look at how one can use “I highly doubt it’ in a sentence: 

  • Person 1: Do you think season 5 will be any better than the last one?
  • Person 2: I highly doubt it – they killed off the best character after all!
  • Person 1: Do you think I can fit this entire mango in my mouth?
  • Person 2: I mean, I want to see you try, but I highly doubt it. 
  • Person 1: Do you think he meant it when he said he’d stop stealing the neighbor’s mangos?
  • Person 2: I highly doubt it; his mango addiction won’t  feed itself.

What Does “I Hardly Doubt It” Mean?

“I hardly doubt it” means that the speaker does not really doubt the issue being discussed. You can use this phrase if you are not entirely certain about the truth or likelihood of a topic but see no real reason not to believe it. 

Let’s consider this phrase in a couple of sentences:

  • Person 1: Now that he’s written her an apology letter, do you think she will take him back?
  • Person 2: I hardly doubt it – she’s a sucker for a run-on sentence.
  • 
  • Person 1: I wonder if there is intelligent life out there in space.
  • Person 2: I hardly doubt it; they’re certainly intelligent enough to stay far away from us.

Which Is Used the Most?

It’s a landslide! “I highly doubt it” is a clear winner between these two phrases. 

A look at the Google Ngram Viewer makes it as clear as day that “I highly doubt it” is the preferred phrase in English overall. 

I Highly Doubt It or I Hardly Doubt It usage

Up until around 1985, neither phrase was used much, if at all. However, from the 1990s, “I highly doubt it” skyrocketed, and is still increasing in use to this day. 

“I hardly doubt it” has seen a minute increase in use since 2010, but its use has started to decrease once again more recently. Either way, even at its peak, the use of this phrase was negligible. 

Final Thoughts

“I highly doubt it” and “I hardly doubt it” are both grammatically correct English phrases with opposite meanings. Although both are technically correct, “I hardly doubt it” is used rarely, if ever, in English literature. “I highly doubt it” is significantly more popular in both American and British English.