Hard to Come By: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
January 13, 2024

The phrase "hard to come by" is often used to describe something difficult to find or obtain. It suggests rarity or scarcity, indicating that the object or situation in question is not easily accessible or available.

In short:

  • It describes something rare or not easily found.
  • It's often used to highlight the value or uniqueness of something.

What Does "Hard to Come By" Mean?

The phrase "hard to come by" implies that something is not commonly found or obtained with ease. For instance, if a certain type of fruit is only available in a specific region, one might say that it is "hard to come by" in other areas. It's a way of expressing that effort or luck is needed to find or acquire something because of its rarity or scarcity. This phrase can refer to physical objects, opportunities, skills, or even qualities in people.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It often suggests that special effort or circumstances are required to obtain something.
  • The phrase can be used in various contexts, including job opportunities, rare collectibles, or unique talents.
  • It also implies a sense of value; things that are "hard to come by" are often considered more desirable or precious.
  • It is commonly used in both everyday conversation and professional settings.
  • Similar expressions include "scarce," "rare," and "difficult to find."

Where Does "Hard to Come By" Come From?

The word "hard" originates from the Old English word “heard,” which comes from the Proto-West Germanic “*hard (ī),” from Proto-Germanic “*harduz” meaning “strong, powerful.” In this context, it denotes difficulty, a usage that dates back to around the 1200s. The term "come by" means to obtain or acquire. Therefore, when combined, "hard to come by" literally means something difficult to obtain or acquire.

10 Examples of "Hard to Come By" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use this phrase, here are some examples from different situations:

  • In that small town, high-speed internet was hard to come by.
  • Good help is hard to come by in this industry, so we value our employees.
  • After the hurricane, clean drinking water became hard to come by.
  • When you get to a certain level of success, genuine friendships can be hard to come by.
  • For collectors, first-edition books are hard to come by.
  • With fingers crossed, we hope that the rare items we seek aren’t too hard to come by.
  • Back in the day, such luxuries were hard to come by, but now we take them for granted.
  • Opportunities like this are hard to come by; you should take it!
  • This opportunity is all yours, and remember, such chances can be hard to come by, so make the most of it.
  • Reliable information on the street can be hard to come by, so it’s important to verify your sources.

Examples of "Hard to Come By" in Pop Culture

This phrase is also used in pop culture, often to describe rare or elusive things.

Here are some examples:

  • Laura Kaye's novel "Hard to Come By" is part of the Hard Ink series, featuring Derek DiMarzio, a tech expert in a team of former soldiers, who embarks on a dangerous mission intertwined with romance.
  • The song "Hard to Come By" by Philly B., released in 2012, explores themes of challenges and perseverance in life, set to a melodic tune.
  • In their song “Too Much Heaven,” the Bee Gees sing: "Nobody gets too much heaven no more. It’s much harder to come by, I’m waiting in line." The song is about the overwhelming feeling of love and its scarcity.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Hard to Come By"

Here are some alternative phrases that express the same idea:

  • Rare
  • Scarce
  • Difficult to find
  • Uncommon
  • Not readily available
  • Few and far between
  • In short supply
  • Elusive
  • Like finding a needle in a haystack
  • Infrequent

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Hard to Come By":

  • What does "hard to come by" mean?

"Hard to come by" means something is rare or not easily found. It's often used to highlight the scarcity or uniqueness of an item, opportunity, or quality.

  • Can "hard to come by" refer to intangible things?

Yes, it can refer to both tangible items, like rare collectibles, and intangible things, like opportunities or skills that are not commonly found.

  • Is "hard to come by" used in a positive or negative sense?

It can be used in both senses. Positively, it might highlight the value of something rare. Negatively, it could express frustration about the difficulty of finding something.

  • What is the origin of "hard to come by"?

The exact origin is unclear, but it likely evolved from the literal difficulty encountered in obtaining something rare or scarce.

  • Can "hard to come by" be used in a professional context?

Yes, it can be used in professional settings to describe rare skills, opportunities, or resources in the workplace.

  • Is this phrase commonly used in everyday language?

Yes, it's a common phrase used in everyday conversations to describe the rarity or scarcity of something.

  • How can "hard to come by" be used to describe people?

It can describe rare qualities or skills in a person, like saying "His level of dedication is hard to come by."

  • Can "hard to come by" apply to emotions or feelings?

Yes, it can describe emotions or feelings that are rare or not often experienced, like "Genuine contentment is hard to come by."

  • Is there a difference between "hard to come by" and "rare"?

"Hard to come by" emphasizes the difficulty in obtaining something, while "rare" focuses more on the infrequency of occurrence or existence.

  • Are there any similar phrases to "hard to come by"?

Yes, similar phrases include "scarce," "few and far between," and "difficult to find."

Final Thoughts About "Hard to Come By"

The phrase "hard to come by" is a versatile expression that describes rarity and scarcity in various contexts. It helps convey the difficulty of finding or obtaining something, whether it's a physical item, an opportunity, a skill, or an emotional state.

In summary:

  • It describes the rarity or scarcity of something.
  • Applicable to both tangible and intangible things.
  • It can be used in both positive and negative contexts.
  • Useful in everyday language as well as in professional settings.

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