Intermediate+ Word of the Day: seldom

seldom (adverb, adjective) /ˈsɛldəm/ LISTEN

When used as an adverb, seldom means that something happens rarely, or not often. Less commonly, it can also be used as an adjective, and in this case it refers to something that occurs only on very rare occasions. The adjective use is mainly in the US.

Example sentences

  • I seldom visit my hometown; I think it has been 5 years since I was last there.
  • I met the love of my life during one of my seldom visits to the city.

Words often used with seldom

Seldom, if ever is a phrase used to mean “even less frequently than seldom.” If you use this expression, you mean that something happens very infrequently, or not at all. Example: “My cat hates getting wet, so she seldom, if ever, goes out in the rain.”

In pop culture

Listen to Bing Crosby singing Home on the Range here. Listen out for the lyric “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.”

Additional information

For many English speakers, seldom can be too formal to use in everyday speech. It is more common to say “I don’t visit my hometown very often” than “I seldom visit my hometown.” To sound more like a native speaker, try to use this word only in more formal or literary contexts. In more informal contexts, you can say “not very often” or “not a lot” (eg, “I don’t visit my hometown a lot”).

Did you know?

You may have heard the phrase once in a blue moon. Technically this means about every 2.5 years, since a blue moon (meaning the second full moon in one calendar month) occurs at such intervals. But the phrase is most often used figuratively, as a synonym of seldom.

Origin

Seldom dates back to before the year 900, as the Old English adverb seldan (seldom or rarely), which evolved into seldum by late Old English and Middle English. It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic selda– (strange or rare), though its origin before then is uncertain. Some linguists believe that it may have come from the Proto-Indo-European root s(w)e-, which also gave us many European third person and reflexive pronouns, such as the Spanish and Portuguese se, and of course the English self. Seldom is related to the Old Norse sjaldan, the Old Frisian selden, the Dutch zelden, the Old High German seltan, the German selten, the Danish sjælden, the Norwegian sjelden, the Swedish sällan, the Faroese sjáldan and the Icelandic sjaldan (all meaning ‘seldom’), as well as the German seltsam and the Dutch zeldzaam, meaning ‘strange or odd.’

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