A listener named Cheryl left a comment on the Grammar Girl Facebook page asking me to write about the difference between hearty and hardy. She wrote, “I am a writer and get confused on the usage of the two adjectives. Love your podcast and appreciate your shows and tips!”
Thanks, Cheryl. I’m not surprised you get these words confused because not only do they sound the same, but they also have overlapping meanings, or at least they used to. For example, hundreds of years ago, one meant “courageous and spirited” and the other meant “bold and fearless.” Pretty similar, right? Try to put that out of your mind because, today, they have different meanings.
Hardy is related to words in other languages such as Old French, Old Norse, and Old High German that meant “hard,” so associate hardy in your mind with hardness. A plant that can survive a cold winter is hardy; it’s tough; it’s hard. People who successfully endure hardships, physical or emotional, can be also described as hardy.
Hearty, on the other hand, comes from the word heart with the suffix -y added to the end (as suffixes always are). It has a sense of “from the heart” and can be used to describe people who are warm and sincere or a meal that is nourishing and filling.
Whereas something tough and able to endure hardship or cold is described as hardy, something that is warm and vigorous, like the heart, is more likely to be described as hearty.
That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: Think of hardy things as cold and hard—such as a plant that can endure the winter or a hiker who can scale a mountain—and think of hearty things as warm and heartfelt—such as a hearty welcome or a hearty meal.