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I am talking about an event that is nearly never observed, but I don't want to say "it does not happen" but this would not be correct. Is it possible to write

It nearly never occurs.

with a single word for "nearly never".

I've found "almost never" could be a good choice, but I would like a single word if this exists.

context : Fires "nearly never" occur more than once in the same year.


I consider that fires are already a "rare event". A second fire in a place that has already burnt (therefore with usually no more inflammable substances) should therefore not occur. However, it does sometime occur (with a very small probability) when the first fire did not burn everything and there is a new start of fire and the external conditions are favourable to fire etc. Hence my quest for a "nearly never" word, which I didn't like.

I had several answer and I thank all who answered. However, most answers provide more than one solution so I cannot make the difference between good "answers" and good "solutions" based on the vote. I personnally see three options :

option 1 : forget about using a single word and use "almost never"

option 2 : use "rarely" (voted up in the comment, voted down in one answer (or maybe the answer was voted down because it was too short) because almost never is too strong. But as I said I am looking for something strong, maybe something between "almost never" which seems to be used for probability of "0" and rarely (probability of 0.0001). In my case it is like a probability of 0.000000001.

option 3 : use scarcely, which is the closest match to "almost never". @helix mentioned it and the definition seemed appropriate in my case.

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Perhaps seldom or rarely? – StoneyB Apr 16 '14 at 12:22
@radouxju You may edit those comments into your question as an update and unaccept my answer. – helix Apr 17 '14 at 4:26
For you to describe like you specified 0.000000001, something with that small of a probability, you could use the phrase, "one in a billion". #joking (but true) :-) – CoolHandLouis May 19 '14 at 9:11
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Not one word, but this phrase is more natural than saying nearly never.:

  • Almost never

One word:

  • Hardly

    Scarcely (used to qualify a statement by saying that it is true to an insignificant degree). Also used as hardly ever.

  • Scarcely or Barely

    Only just; almost not:

Usage graph specific to your context:

XXX occur/s

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interesting graph, but based on you definition of scarcely it seems to be more suitable in my case, even if it is not the most popular. I'll go for scarcely. – radouxju Apr 16 '14 at 13:04
@radouxju Your choice. Also, I think this reverse dictionary will be useful for you. – helix Apr 16 '14 at 13:12
just to make sure : does your definition refer to hardly (with scarcely as a synonym) or to scarcely ? – radouxju Apr 17 '14 at 5:39
Although "it hardly occurs" is OK, "it hardly ever occurs" sounds much more natural to me (native speaker of British English); same for "barely". – David Richerby Jan 6 at 12:40

Exactly what StoneyB and helix suggests. A single word for that could be...

Seldom, Rarely, Scarcely or Barely (#2).

Just to add the preference of writers. An interesting nGram suggests the use of 'rarely', 'barely', 'seldom' and 'scarcely' in that order.

Other synonyms (check out the color/shading) here on thesaurus.

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thank you for your answer, but I am looking for the words that would be "closest to never". Rarely is quite often used but I have the feeling that something rare occurs more often than "almost never". – radouxju Apr 16 '14 at 12:57
@radouxju True, in that case, I feel scarcely fits. – Maulik V Apr 16 '14 at 13:02
I suggest that you should be more careful when using Google's Ngram Viewer. See this and this. Without context, it is not statistically fair. – helix Apr 16 '14 at 13:05
@helix thanks for the suggestion. I just thought that the OP has given an example and that might not be the sole instance he's thinking about. I considered a broader view and suggested him. If we go by nGram by putting the exact phrase of the example, the results may differ if OP uses it in other context. That would make it even unfair (statistically!). – Maulik V Apr 16 '14 at 13:09
@MaulikV This is what I meant by statistically unfair: Hardly has other meanings like in "She could hardly sit up." It wouldn't be fair to include these unrelated usages in the graph. – helix Apr 16 '14 at 13:33

Use "rarely ever." The extra "ever" makes the "rarely" much stronger, but not as far as "almost never".

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Interestingly, in mathematics "almost surely" and "almost never" are very formally defined terms - Wikipedia - though they imply something far more rare than what you're getting at.

"Fires rarely occur more than once in the same year" is more correct than "Fires almost never occur once in the same year" - I can find a handful of cases searching Google, "almost never," when used formally, is more appropriate for things like "The second law of thermodynamics is almost never violated in a macroscopic scale", since it can be violated, just with 0 probability.

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As you've already gathered, nearly never should immediately be discounted in favour of almost never, as a two word solution.

Of the single word options suggested so far, particularly in the context of the sample usage ("fires almost never occur more than once in the same year") you give in your latest edit, seldom and rarely stand head and shoulders above scarcely and barely as drop in replacements for almost never, indeed the latter pair are very awkward and arguably invalid in your sentence without themselves being converted to two word expressions - scarcely ever and barely ever. Seldom and rarely could both be given increased emphasis by appending ever (though defeating your object), but work well enough on their own.

So stick with seldom or rarely if you really want a single word replacement, but I wouldn't say that either conveys quite the sense of infrequency as almost never, and I wouldn't see any need of my own to replace that with a single word at all.

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The word seldom can be used instead of the words nearly never in a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.

It seldom occurs.

The word ever can be added after seldom in this sentence. Although this would not be a single word replacement for nearly never, it would be grammatically correct and it also sounds much better in my opinion.

It seldom ever occurs.

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To me, going from "nearly never" to "seldom" changes the meaning quite a lot. "Nearly never" suggests only a few times in history, whereas "seldom" just means that it doesn't happen very often. For example, in England, it nearly never snows in June [that would require totally freak weather conditions] and it seldom snows in April [probably once every 10-15 years; I'm pretty sure it's happened at least twice in my lifetime]. – David Richerby Jan 6 at 12:46

infrequently or occasionally are about as strong a wording as I can get.

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – Nihilist_Frost Jan 6 at 15:27
I disagree. The original post was searching for a single word that evoked "nearly never", and I posit that "infrequently" and "occasionally" both fit the bill. – John Griswold Jan 7 at 20:24
I mean that this answer is so short and doesn't have much backing up that it may as well be a comment. It does answer the question, but I don't think the content is enough to warrant being a full answer. – Nihilist_Frost Jan 7 at 20:57

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