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It is rarely that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

I suppose it means that:

The police rarely arrest people without adequate suspicion.

but I couldn't find this in my grammar book.

Is this sentence pattern possible?

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I believe that it is rarely that It is rarely that ... is a recommended sentence pattern for ELL. – Damkerng T. Apr 8 '14 at 13:22
But still extra credit that you caught on! Using the adverb may be antiquated, but I remember seeing it in older language. – Panzercrisis Apr 8 '14 at 19:03

As this NGram shows, OP's specific construction is rarely used these days...

My guess is that many of the (relatively few) instances in recent decades will either be citing older texts, or they'll be things like [but] it is rarely that [simple], which isn't quite the same usage.

The adverb/adjective issue is a sterile debate. Indeed, as OED specifically says under rarely (phrase)...

it is (very) rarely that : = it is (very) rare that

Having said that, as the above chart implies, and this one makes crystal clear you should stick to the more "regular" adjectival form in this specific construction today.

A similar usage shift involving adverb/adjective forms has occurred with it is well that vs it is good that. It's not that the older form was (or even, is) "wrong". It's just gradually fallen out of favour

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In OED I searched, but there seems to be no entry of "It's rarely that..." as you mentioned in your answer. – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 17:41
@Man_From_India: Are you perhaps confusing OED (the "real thing") with Oxford Dictionaries online? Here's the link to the OED entry, but unless you have a subscription (very expensive unless you get it free through a UK library or your academic institution), I'm afraid you won't be able to access it. – FumbleFingers Apr 8 '14 at 17:46
I see. That's why I see nothing. anyways thanks a lot. – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 17:53
it is (very) rarely that : = it is (very) rare that -that's what I said. And two users here did not like it! – Maulik V Apr 9 '14 at 6:25


It is rare that police arrest people without adequate suspicion. OR
Police rarely arrest people without adequate suspicion.

The adverb rarely generally modifies a verb or a form of a verb, as in: We rarely walk. We prefer to take a car.

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Other examples - Things are rarely as they seem. I am also confused about this kind of usage of rarely – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 14:09
It might be that I'm not a native speaker. And like Maulik V I also construct sentences like he did. I know that "rarely" is an adverb, but here in your sentence it acts like an adjective. That's why I'm confused. – Man_From_India Apr 8 '14 at 14:35
@username901345 - I don't think Maulik is wrong, despite your Hardy quote. Let's finish it: "but they possibly did with Oak to-night, for the delight of merely seeing her effaced for the time his perception of the great difference between seeing and possessing." I'll assert that we don't normally hyphenate to-night, and the use of effaced as a verb is rare. Moreover, I'm not sure what closing the casement means, and the next paragraph seems quite antiquated as well: – J.R. Apr 8 '14 at 17:35
He also thought of plans for fetching his few utensils and books from Norcombe. [A few books] constituted his library; and though a limited series, it was one from which he had acquired more sound information by diligent perusal than many a man of opportunities has done from a furlong of laden shelves. If you want to point to that as acceptable, everyday English helpful for the language learner, I think you're in the wrong place. Hardy may have written it, but that doesn't nullify Maulik's answer for the general case. – J.R. Apr 8 '14 at 17:36

The sentence:

It is rarely that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

is an example of it-cleft.

Clefting is a construction by which a single sentence is broken up into two clauses so that the clause moved to the front receives more emphasis.

Let's see how it works in your example:

Police rarely arrest people without adequate suspicion.

and imagine we wish to emphasize how rarely this happens, then we would write:

It is rarely that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

Imagine, however, that we want to emphasize people without adequate suspicion, then we would write:

It is people without adequate suspicion that police rarely arrest.

Regardless of the explanation above, as Fumble Fingers clearly shows, you're better off if you stick with:

It is rare that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

More on the grammar regarding this question can be found here at ELU.

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We have two rules of grammar that can apply here. The first is that an adverb modifies a verb, and to be is a verb. The second is that a "predicate adjective" can modify a subject, using a "linking verb" such as "be" (feel, look, seem, appear, etc. would be other examples). Since both rules can apply, which one is actually applied is a matter of habit and/or style, and therefore a challenge for a non-native speaker.

As FumbleFingers has touched upon with one of his examples, it would seem that we are moving from using the first rule to the second one. It would also seem that we haven't quite moved all the way there yet. For example, "the pie tasted well" is quite old-fashioned by now, having been pretty much entirely replaced with "the pie tasted good" in the 20th century. On the other hand, "I don't feel good" and "I don't feel well" both occur regularly, while "I feel good" is much more common than "I feel well." Furthermore, "I feel poorly" is a midwest-US colloquialism, meaning the same as "I don't feel well". ("I feel poor" would have the unrelated meaning that the person didn't feel rich.) So, clearly, there's an inconsistency in usage.

Clearly "it is rarely that" is antiquated. However, it is well/good to keep in mind that if another noun is provided for the verb to act upon, the adjective will revert to an adverb:

It is rarely the case that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

One further point is to avoid confusing action verbs with linking verbs, and thereby using adjectives where adverbs belong. These are all considered incorrect grammar (although they are often used, especially in the US):

I don't hear good.
I don't see good.
I did good on my exam.

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Looking back on this, my three examples at the end are slightly ambiguous and so might be confusing. "Good" as a noun (the opposite of evil) would be grammatically correct. For example, "I don't see good; I only see evil" would be entirely a correct sentence. – BobRodes Sep 2 '15 at 19:22

It is rarely that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

This is a it-cleft sentence, and it applies a stress on the rare occasion of police arresting people without adequate suspicion. In other word, without giving any stress it could be written like this -

Police rarely arrest people without adequate suspicion.

In this sentence rarely is an adjunct. It's a frequency adjunct. We can consider it as a form of time adjunct.

And so it can correctly occur in the focus position of an it-cleft sentence. Hence the following sentence is correct -

It's (very) rarely that police arrest people without adequate suspicion.

(OED has an entry for it's (very) rarely that...)

An adverbial can be divided into four categories - adjunct, subjunct, disjunct and conjunct.

But it's only the adjunct, and not other adverbials, that can occur in the focus position of an it-cleft sentence.

In negative or interrogative all adjunct can occur in the focus position of an it-cleft sentence. But in positive sentence not all adjuncts can occur in the focus position. Some need modifiers, and some can occupy the position without the use of any modifiers.

It's the manner adjunct and degree adjuncts that takes modifiers -

It was very carefully that John cut the cake.

  • It was carefully that John cut the cake [INCORRECT]

The time and place adjuncts can occur in that position without the help of any modifiers.

It's frequently that he looses money.

It's very frequently that he looses money.

[I will try to update it later with more info]

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