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RARELY and SELDOM are frequency adverbs used to refer to things that almost never happen



RARELY and SELDOM are frequency adverbs used to refer to things that almost never happen, or do not happen very often. They are very near synonyms. 

"We seldom see our old neighbors anymore."

Something that happens rarely happens only once in a while, or seldom. An example of seldom is when you go on vacation every five years. 

"She very rarely complains."

If you seldom, or almost never do something, you can say you do it rarely. If you walk or bike to work most days, you could say that you rarely take the bus. 

"The same people seldom show up twice." 

In literary writing, 'rarely' and 'seldom' are sometimes put at the beginning of a sentence, followed by an auxiliary verb and the subject, to emphasize that something seems surprising, unusual, special, etc.

"Seldom did he ask me questions about our finances."
"Rarely have I seen such a beautiful sunset."

Although both adverbs are in common use, 'seldom' seems to have a bit of a more older, smarter mood to it. Many users feel that it sounds more formal while some state they see no difference between the adverbs.

"I would say that they are virtually identical in meaning and usage."

'Rarely' is more common in everyday speech and instead of 'seldom' users normally say 'hardly ever' or 'rarely' in conversation. 

"It hardly ever rains here."

According to Google's Ngram viewer, 'seldom' has also been rarer than 'rarely' in writing since about 1950. 

"Don't know of any example where I would interpret 'seldom' and 'rarely' differently."

The OED's earliest quoted example of 'rarely' in the sense of 'seldom' is from 1546, yet 'seldom' has an example from c. 897, so it had a bit of a head start, but 'rarely' has been steadily gaining in popularity.

"I don't hear people say the word 'seldom' compared to 'rarely' often."

That said, English learners may find 'seldom' a bit less cumbersome to articulate than 'rarely'.

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