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oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:

Details of the accident are scarce.
Money was extremely scarce after the war.
Skilled workers were becoming increasingly scarce.
Butterflies are getting scarcer and scarcer in industrialized areas.
Land suitable for building on is scarce.

As you see, "scarce" is not before the nouns. Why in all dictionaries are there not the examples where "scarce" is before these nouns: scarce details, scarce money, scarce workers, scarce butterflies, scarce land?


Which of the next meanings of "scarce resources" are correct?

(1a) Scarce resources are the resources that hard to find.
(1b) Scarce resources are when we have the resources that are needed but they are in insufficient quantity.
(1c) Scarce resources are when we can have a lot of resources of one type, but don't have at all the resources of another type that is also needed.


Which of the next meanings of "scarce food" are correct?

(2a) Scarce food is the food that hard to find.
(2b) Scarce food is when we have the food that is needed but it is in insufficient quantity.
(2c) Scarce food is when we can have a lot of food of one type, but don't have at all the food of another type that is also needed.

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Scarce is an example of an adjective that is much more often used predicatively than attributively. It is not exclusively predicative (like asleep and alive), but it is most often used that way.

The iWeb corpus has 59 376 instances of scarce, but only 10 479 of them are immediately followed by a noun (and 5 570 of them are scarce resource(s). There are no instances at all of scarce food in that corpus. )

I don't believe it is possible to give a definitive answer for your questions. It might mean any of those, depending on context. What it means is "There aren't (weren't, won't be, wouldn't be) enough of them". You are looking for a level of precision of meaning which is not inherent in the word.

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  • It looks like "scarce" is a predicate adjective, and some specific nouns, as part of their lexical definition, also allow it to be used attributively.
    – gotube
    Oct 7, 2022 at 5:44
  • Thanks for that suggestion, @gotube. I hadn't heard of that idea before, but it makes sense.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 7, 2022 at 17:52
  • There's a collocation "rare species" in biology but can I say "scarce species"? For example "The Himalayan brown bear is one of the most scarce species of bears in the world." or "It's a scarce species." Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Oct 7, 2022 at 23:53
  • Scarce species sounds odd to me, @Loviii, but it gets 77 hits in the iWeb corpus.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 8, 2022 at 1:28

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