17th June 2005 at 01:00
Rarely (adverb) seldom, infrequently

The modern sense was coming into the language in Shakespeare's time, but he never uses it. His meanings all derive from two senses of the adjective rare. The word means "splendidly, excellently" in The Two Noble Kinsmen when the Gaoler's Daughter says that the King of Pygmies "tells fortunes rarely" (III.iv.16) or the Schoolmaster tells the dancers they have "danced rarely" (III.v.158), and this is the sense in Much Ado About Nothing when Hero describes men as "rarely featured" (III.i.60). The second sense is "exceptionally, outstandingly", and this is the meaning required when Cleopatra exclaims "O rarely base!" (Antony and Cleopatra, V.ii.158) or when Lysimachus thinks of marrying Marina: "I'd... think me rarely wed" (Pericles, V.i.68).

The context usually resolves any ambiguity, but we have to be on our guard.

When Bottom says "I could play Ercles rarely" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, I.ii.26) or Margaret asks "Doth not my wit become me rarely?" (Much Ado About Nothing, III.iv.63), we have to be careful to ignore the frequency nuance that can easily come to mind.

David Crystal

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now