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In an answer in the Spanish site about the use of timbre in European Spanish I tried to say that there is a specific meaning of the word that I know but very infrequently get to use, so I wrote this:

I also know and seldom use the meaning of the word in the context of musical instruments.

Today my answer got edited by a user who speaks US English, and ended up like this:

I also know and very occasionally use the meaning of the word in the context of musical instruments.

I usually trust the corrections this person makes to my answers in English, but this time I got a little puzzled about the reason of the change.

  • Is seldom a word that is seldom used in English? (Yes, pun intended.) Did it just get changed to another, more frequently used expression?
  • Did I use the word in a wrong way? What would be the proper way to use seldom in that sentence? Following the comment left when the text got changed, is it just that seldom produces a negative feeling and I just had to write "I also know BUT seldom use..."?

Yes, I know I just have to ask this person, but I would like to get a broader opinion about this.

  • 1
    I would have thought the correct answer was to use "seldomly" in place of "seldom", but the answers make me doubt. Can anyone clarify? – Mr Lister Jul 19 at 10:27
  • Because someone is a pointless pedant who doesn't mind inverting the meaning of your sentence as long as his preferred usage prevails. Ignore. – user207421 Jul 19 at 10:34
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    A stylistic comment on the edit, thanks to Mark Twain: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Greg Bacon Jul 19 at 14:45
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    @MrLister, "seldom" is an adverb. Not all adverbs end with "-ly" (and not all words that end with "-ly" are adverbs). "Seldom" is an example of an adverb to which "-ly" should not be appended. – Alan Jul 19 at 15:52
  • Interest only: I'd have tended to write " ... know, but seldom use, ...". – Russell McMahon Jul 23 at 11:28
92

Seldom is a word and you have used it correctly, however not very naturally!

Seldom - not often; rarely (def. from google)

I disagree with the correction. A better way to say this is:

I also know, but seldom use, the meaning of the word in the context of musical instruments.

I think the issue with the sentence, and the reason your original one sounds unnatural, is that you are mixing up positives and negatives:

I know - positive phrase Seldom (not often) - negative phrase

The correction was to another positive phrase: Occasionally - positive (happens, but only sometimes)

In general, it does feel unnatural to link positives and negatives with an and. Although this answer is purely speculative and I have no evidence!

  • 29
    I read the question and started to think about it. I thought to myself that if I were to keep seldom, I would instead change and to but. So, this answer exactly matches my own intuition. Know and seldom is a strange conjunction between those two words. The contrasting but is, indeed, a much better choice. I find the actual edit made to be more intrusive than the simpler change we both suggest. Note that what happened was stylistic editing rather than just proofreading. – Jason Bassford Jul 18 at 15:28
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    @Jason very succinctly put +1 – Bee Jul 18 at 15:31
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    Also, the addition of the commas helps. – TripeHound Jul 18 at 17:55
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    I would say "seldom" also sounds as if this is a negative value judgement. eg "...but seldom use the meaning in the context of musical instruments because it sounds pretentious" etc While "occasionally" is only commenting on the frequency and has no judgement overtones. – Dragonel Jul 18 at 20:19
  • The positive + negative aspect matched my intuition about this. – Barmar Jul 19 at 15:57
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I mostly agree with Bee's answer: "but seldom" fits better than "and seldom" because of negative/positive usage. Switching to "occasionally" makes the sentence say you are happy about having opportunities to use the word, while writing "but seldom" instead would suggest you are disappointed you don't get to use it more. Either could be correct depending on what tone you are trying to convey.

However, the sentence structure could stand to be fixed too. Both sides of the "and" should make sense if you were to drop the other half.

  • "I know ... the meaning of the word" is fine, but
  • "I ... seldom use the meaning of the word" makes little sense. You use the word, not the word's meaning.

Perhaps instead:

I know the word's meaning, but seldom use it...

or

...and occasionally use it...

  • I completely agree, I hadn't even really thought about bit of the sentence! – Bee Jul 19 at 9:37
  • Good catch! :-) – Falco Jul 19 at 11:09
-5

The use of very occasionally in the correction is quite awkward for the English language. It's almost an oxymoron.

Very as an adverb means so much, huge, vastly, an increase in term.

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    I disagree. The use of oxymorons in English is very much NOT awkward, and is instead very common. Very, in this case, is increasing the degree of infrequency. – azb_ Jul 18 at 18:30
  • What makes the sentence awkward is that the phrase "very occasionally", like seldom, has a positive or negative sense that would need to be balanced with something having the opposite sense using a contrasting conjunction such as "but". For example, "I don't do this often, but very occasionally will", or "I usually do this, but will very occasionally do something else". – supercat Jul 18 at 18:37
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    Eh, "very" is just an intensifier. It doesn't mean anything beyond intensifying. There is nothing wrong with using "very occasionally", and I'd argue that usage is rather common in the language. It's just not what I'd call "good writing", i.e., I wouldn't want to see it in a novel. But I see no problem using it in a conversation. – only_pro Jul 18 at 19:40
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    "Very occasionally" is no more an oxymoron than "very small." – John Montgomery Jul 18 at 22:27
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    There is nothing wrong with "very occasionally." The reason the OP's second sentence seems wrong is that if you use a word (either occasionally or frequently), you don't need to tell the reader that you know what it means! In this context the fact that the writer knows what it means is irrelevant. Just say "The word is very occasionally used in the context of musical instruments." The truth or falsehood of that sentence doesn't depend on the whether or not the writer knows the meaning of the word. – alephzero Jul 18 at 23:33

protected by J.R. Jul 19 at 10:28

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