Some homophones have such dissimilar definitions that they’re fairly easy to keep straight. You don’t often see the word daze where days should be, or male instead of mail.
The same can’t be said for hardy and hearty. The two terms are certainly different—they have different etymologies, and in most situations only one of them makes sense. But there’s also enough overlap that it can be tough to remember what those situations are.
If the situation involves feelings, you want hearty. Definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary include “giving full and unrestrained expression to the feelings,” “energetic and thorough in one’s actions or desires,” and “showing warmth of affection or friendly feeling.” If you propose marriage to someone, you want to hear a hearty “Yes!” If you tell a good joke, you want to hear hearty laughter.
If the situation involves boldness, sturdiness, or endurance in difficult conditions, you want hardy. The contestants on American Ninja Warrior, for example, are typically very hardy; so are Frank and Joe Hardy of The Hardy Boys (the term is pulling double duty as their surname and a nod to their penchant for diving headlong into danger). A hardy plant is unbothered by inclement weather.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky: Hearty and hardy can both mean “healthy” or “robust.” Generally, you want hearty for anything food-related. A hearty soup is a nourishing one; a hearty appetite is a big appetite. Hardy, on the other hand, usually connotes physical fitness or strength—just like those American Ninja Warriors contestants.
When in doubt, remember hearty like heart, and hardy like hard.
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