How do the two sentences mean the same?

I read the sentences in a book and I don’t know how they are the same in meaning:

  1. I had only just put the phone down when the boss rang back. (possitive)
  2. Hardly had I put the phone down when the boss rang back. (negative)

Thanks in advance.

Hi chiaki,

There are many ways of saying the same thing in any language, aren’t there? The difference in your two sentences is that in the first one ‘only’ is just a statement of fact. In the second one the use of ‘hardly’ at the beginning of the sentence and the consequent inversion of subject and verb (had I) makes the statement more dramatic and emphatic. I wouldn’t describe them as negative and positive because they both indicate that the phone was put down and then very shortly afterwards the phone rang again.


Thank you, Alan. I can understand the first sentence as you explained but I can’t figure out the meaning of the second sentence since I think it means “I almost didn’t put the phone down”, the action of putting was hardly taken. It is difficult to get the same meaning as the first sentence :frowning:

Well, Alan, I think I understand the second sentence now. So another question, are the two sentences the same: “Hardly had I put the phone down when the boss rang back” and “I had hardly put the phone down when the boss rang back”? I think they mean different.


The point is there is little difference (hardly any difference) between the two. It is a question of emphasis. The difference between ‘only just done something’ and ‘hardly done something’ can’t really be measured. The gap between just done and hardly done something is very small. You are in fact saying the same thing but approaching the action from two different points of view.