1. Not often; infrequently: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple" (Oscar Wilde).
a. In an unusual degree; exceptionally: "a rarely good judge of the best in modern literature" (Frank Harris).
b. With uncommon excellence: "You can write rarely now, after all your schooling" (George Eliot).
Usage Note: The use of ever after adverbs such as rarely, seldom, hardly, and scarcely has often been criticized as redundant, and not without reason. The sentence She rarely ever watches television expresses nothing that is not conveyed by She rarely watches television. While these constructions occur frequently in speech today, in print they are not used at similar rates. For some reason, both historically and in contemporary published prose, rarely ever and seldom ever are not very common, perhaps because rarely and seldom are more immediately associated with time than hardly, scarcely, and other minimizing adverbs are, and so the overlap with ever is more obvious. In any case, scarcely ever has a long and distinguished track record of use by admired writers, and appears with some frequency in contemporary prose: "The cold air of the fall morning had blown in through the rusted seams of the sort of vehicle that nobody in her family ever rode in, that scarcely ever appeared on the streets where she lived" (Alice Munro). Similarly, the construction hardly ever also has a long history of use by distinguished writers, including modern ones: "When he was dead I realized that I had hardly ever spoken to him" (James Baldwin). It seems then that scarcely ever and hardly ever, though technically redundant, are valued for their emphatic expressiveness, while rarely ever and seldom ever have not won such favor. They are therefore best avoided. See Usage Note at hardly.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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