Using apenas/casi for hardly

To express hardly, hardly ever or barely, in Spanish we use the adverbs apenas or casi. They are synonyms but work in a slightly different way.

Apenas

Apenas la conozco.I hardly know her.

- ¿Ves mucho a Juan? - No, apenas lo veo.- Do you see Juan a lot? - No, I hardly see him.

Ella apenas recoge su habitación. Siempre está desordenada.She rarely tidies her bedroom. It's always a mess.

Apenas puedo ver con estas gafas tan sucias.I can barely see with these very dirty glasses.

You can place apenas right in front of the verb as seen in the examples above. Or you can construct the sentence with a verb in the negative, like this:

No la conozco apenas.I hardly know her.

- ¿Ves mucho a Juan? - No, no lo veo apenas.- Do you see Juan a lot? -No, I hardly see him.

Ella no recoge su habitación apenas.She rarely tidies her bedroom.

For a double negative sentence, you need to put no in front of the verb and then place apenas after the verb. This follows the same structure as nunca: Using nunca in negative sentences 

In summary, you have two options:

  • apenas + affirmative sentence
  • no + verb  + apenas

Casi 

Casi has the same functionality as apenas but with the difference that it always needs a verb in negative to mean hardly/barely. For example:

Casi no tengo tiempo para disfrutar de mi familia.I hardly have time to enjoy my family.

Casi no visito a mis padres porque viven a 300 kilómetros de aquí.I hardly ever visit my parents because they live 300 kilometres away.

The sentence does not make sense without the negation:

Casi tengo tiempo para visitar a mis padres. 

You can't change the order either:

No tengo tiempo casi para visitar a mis padres.

You must place "no" after "casi", never before:

Casi no tengo tiempo para leer. (correct)

No casi tengo tiempo para leer. (incorrect)

Note that to say hardly ever we use "casi nunca":

Nosotras casi nunca nos peleamos. Nos llevamos estupendamente.We hardly/hardly ever argue. We get on really well.

casi no + verb 

 To learn about other possible meanings of apenas and casi, see also:

Using por poco/casi/un poco más y + present tense for nearly/almost

En cuanto/apenas/tan pronto como for as soon as (subordinate time clauses)

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Examples and resources

Ella apenas recoge su habitación. Siempre está desordenada.She rarely tidies her bedroom. It's always a mess.
Casi no tengo tiempo para disfrutar de mi familia.I hardly have time to enjoy my family.
Casi no visito a mis padres porque viven a 300 kilómetros de aquí.I hardly ever visit my parents because they live 300 kilometres away.
No la conozco apenas.I hardly know her.
- ¿Ves mucho a Juan? - No, no lo veo apenas.- Do you see Juan a lot? -No, I hardly see him.
Apenas puedo ver con estas gafas tan sucias.I can barely see with these very dirty glasses.
Apenas la conozco.I hardly know her.
- ¿Ves mucho a Juan? - No, apenas lo veo.- Do you see Juan a lot? - No, I hardly see him.
Casi no puedo ver a los actores. No he traído mis prismáticos.I can barely see the actors. I haven't brought my binoculars.
Ella no recoge su habitación apenas.She rarely tidies her bedroom.
Nosotras casi nunca nos peleamos. Nos llevamos estupendamente.We hardly/hardly ever argue. We get on really well.
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