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Say I am reviewing a software (or whatever), and after talking about its good features I get to list its drawbacks:

  • Quite RAM consuming.
  • Rarely crashes when various keys are pressed at the same time.

The word rarely sounds out of place, as if it were good that a bad thing, namely crashing, rarely happens. The point is that it should never happen.

Is my impression genuine? If yes, what is a proper replacement for rarely? Seldom and unfrequently seem to fail likewise. It must, of course, keep the meaning of something that happens at a very low frequency.

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  • Your impression is correct. Rarely means something like "almost never". But you don't want to say it "almost never crashes!", you want to say it sometimes does crash when you do this.
    – stangdon
    Feb 19 at 16:29
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Rarely (like rare, few, little, hardly, and seldom) is a negative polarity term, so the implication is that it crashes less often than one might expect.

Occasionally (and some, sometimes, a few, a little) are not negative polarity terms, and do not have that implication.

So you're right: it is out of place in your review, unless you're comparing it with a version, or a program, that crashes rather more. I think occasionally will serve your purpose.

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  • Looks pretty good. It only seems to me that occasionally is more frequent than rarely, but then I think I can use "occasionally (but rarely)" to emphasize, does it look good?
    – LoremIpsum
    Feb 19 at 16:15
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    To me, occasionally is no more frequent than rarely - it just lacks the negative polarity. But your emendation is OK.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 19 at 16:17
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    Looking at this NGram usage chart comparing occasionally but rarely with rarely but occasionally, it's tempting to think that a century or two ago most people did think that "occasionally is more frequent than rarely". But not so much now. Feb 19 at 18:12
  • Okay, you've got me, I'm old as hell :)
    – LoremIpsum
    Feb 19 at 18:43

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