According to a dictionary, all these words are quite synonymous. Is there any subtle difference in meaning?

I consulted the Free dictionary and found that:

scarce: Hard to find; absent or rare.

rare: Infrequently occurring; uncommon.

uncommon: Not common; rare.

4 Answers 4


All three talk about frequency of occurrence for something within a population of things


does not occur as often as


does not occur as often as


"scarce" has more of an absolute meaning of "hard to find or obtain" sometimes do to very high demand or very low supply

Available tickets to the playoff finals are very scarce since everyone wants to go.

Snow in the Sahara is uncommon and would be a rare occurrence.
Potable water in the Sahara is scarce.

If you say something is "uncommonly good" it means it is "more than very good", however, if you say something is "rarely good" it means it is "not often good" or "usually bad".


When my son was in kindergarten he told me rare is a city word you use to discribe art, wine and jewels and scarce is a country word you use to describe food and water.


"Scarce" is something that is rare, compared to what is needed. In the zoo, the food for the elephants might be scarce, but they still have a lot of it - just not enough considering the size of an elephants belly. Diamonds are rare, but we have enough of them. "Uncommon" is usually related to being different from a common variant; triplets are uncommon, because single births and twins are much more common.

So all three words imply "rare", but "scarce" and "uncommon" have additional meanings.


In writing my latest book, I wanted to describe the relative availability of a selection of certain military artifacts. I "graded" the words in ascending order of difficulty to find: "Uncommon" being the most likely to be encountered, then "scarce", then "rare" to describe the items least likely to be found.

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