I'm trying to ascertain whether the ordering of these frequency adverbs, in this link, is correct?

  • Always 100%
  • Usually 90%
  • Often 70%
  • Sometimes 50%
  • Occasionally 30%
  • Seldomly 10%
  • Hardly ever 5%
  • Never 0%

My main doubt is in stating that seldomly is for more frequent actions than hardly ever... I would have assumed that rarely also meant hardly ever.

P.S.: I wasn't expecting users to take the numbers to heart. Please, consider them only as a guideline in the ordering of the words... They are not to be taken literally.

  • The numbers, except for 0% and 100%, are nonsense. Aug 21 '20 at 13:45
  • Usually 90% and often 70%?!
    – Void
    Aug 21 '20 at 15:48

The percentages of chance shown next to these adverbs of frequency are completely opinion-based (with the exception of always and never). Equating a word to a value like this is not really a grammar matter.

You're right, "rarely" is probably synonymous with "hardly ever", but so is "seldom".

How "rare" something is would depend on context. In medicine, "rare side effects" would occur in 0.01% to 0.1% of cases, yet a disease or condition is classed as rare if it affects fewer than 0.050% of people in the general population.


I think the ordering is fine, but there is no word "seldomly". The word you want is just "seldom". I agree, assuming I understand you correctly, that attempting to use "rarely" instead of "seldom" would be confusing, since "rarely" and "hardly ever" would close to the same meaning in readers' minds.


First, "seldomly" barely exists: the OED marks it as "obsolete" and the iWeb corpus shows 611 instances, against 759 589 of "seldom". Seldom is the usual adverb.

In answer to your main question, attempting to rank these precisely is a waste of effort. Language is used by people, not machines, and they don't necessarily have hard and precise rules. Sometimes, occasionally, rarely (which you don't list), seldom, and hardly ever can all overlap.

I would say that the main difference between occasionally and seldom/rarely/hardly ever is that occasionally has positive polarity, but the others have negative. This is not obvious from the definitions, but it has implications not just pragmatically but also on syntax.

If you ask somebody how often something happens, and they answer "occasionally", this is usually neutral, not implying any expectation.

If they answer seldom, rarely, or hardly ever there is often an implied "contrary to what you might have expected" (or "contrary to what I might have expected").

The syntactic effects of negative polarity are well known. Two of the most salient are:

  • They take any and its relatives rather than some:

I have occasionally seen somebody there. (not anybody)

I have seldom seen anybody there. (somebody is possible, but less likely)

  • Negative polarity adverbial phrases can come clause-initially, triggering subject-verb inversion:

Never/rarely/seldom/ have I seen such a thing.

But not *Occasionally have I seen such a thing.

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