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"Do 'uncommon' and 'rare' both have the same meaning, and can one replace the other in a sentence?"

Can you explain what is the correct usage.

Uncommon (of an event, situation, or condition) not occurring very often:

Rare not seen, happening, or experienced often.

Also, similar question found at ell.stackexchange.com/questions/108956/…,

Does meaning vary / change when use with living versus non living objects?

Is there any other way to improve the question?

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3 Answers 3

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So far, there are two completely contradictory answers, one saying they're complete synonyms, and one saying 'uncommon' is 'more common' than 'rare'. One has received a downvote for being 'misleading'.

My instinct was that @Jaime was right, but on reflection I realised that as a negative form of 'common', uncommon might acquire slightly different meanings according to context. However, this would be the exception to the general rule. I can't think of a sentence off the top of my head where the difference is significant. You probably need to use both words in close proximity before any distinction would be relevant.

For instance:

The crested newt has become uncommon in recent years, but is not yet considered rare.

But in both my example and @Biblasia's, 'rare' is being used in a more technical and scientific sense of 'rare animals', and it's the context of the usage that creates a distinction in meaning, not the words themselves.

So I actually think both contradictory answers can be correct, in some circumstances. However, I think as a general rule of thumb, you can treat 'uncommon' and 'rare' as exact synonyms, and therefore Jaime is more correct.

Edit: I plead guilty to not having checked the dictionary first, but, the 2022 edition of the American Heritage dictionary says this:

un·com·mon (ŭn-kŏmən) adj. un·com·mon·er, un·com·mon·est

  1. Not common; rare.
  2. Wonderful; remarkable. un·common·ly adv. un·common·ness n.

rare 1 (râr) adj. rar·er, rar·est

  1. Infrequently occurring; uncommon: a rare event; a plant that is rare in this region.
  2. Excellent; extraordinary: a rare sense of honor.
  3. Thin in density; rarefied: rare air.

It seems to me that the dictionary considers Jaime's answer closer to the normally-understood truth than Biblasia's.

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  • This is an interesting discussion. To me, when I hear "uncommon", I automatically think "so it's sometimes happening, although it's not very easy to see them", but when I hear "rare", what I think is "oh, it's almost not happening". Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:29
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Yes. As far as I can tell, they're more or less complete synonyms.

Although ... 'rare' can sometimes (only sometimes) carry a positive nuance about it (in the sense of 'precious'), while 'uncommon' tends to be more neutral.

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  • I have downvoted your answer Jaime, as it's misleading. It's a good idea to check dictionary meanings rather than just to offer an opinion. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:09
  • @RonaldSole I just checked a dictionary, and Jaime's answer seems pretty much bang-on to me.
    – fred2
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:23
  • I disagree that they are synonyms in common usage. I don't think a dictionary definition can tell you everything about a word's meaning.
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:24
  • @fred2 Exceptionally clever people are uncommon; geniuses are rare. There is a distinct difference of degree that you will find, for example in the classification of diseases, and that should be respected in a serious dialogue, as opposed to informal conversation. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:38
  • Does meaning vary / change when use with living versus non living objects?
    – Nadeem Taj
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:48
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Suppose we are speaking of a species of animal. We might select its status from a list like this:

  • ubiquitous (exist everywhere)
  • common
  • uncommon
  • rare
  • endangered
  • extinct (no longer exist)

As you should see, "rare" is less common than "uncommon." They are not equal in meaning.

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  • I think this is more general than just animals, but agree that something that is uncommon is probably more likely to be encountered than rare.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 15:31

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