Rare vs. Scarce- Know the Difference

Words like ‘scarce’ and ‘rare’ are used quite interchangeably in general communication. While saying something like ‘Time is a ______ commodity for some’, we usually do not worry whether to choose ‘rare’ or ‘scarce’. We just pick one and write the sentence without putting much thought into it. In most cases, the listener gets the meaning without any trouble. However, can we take the same liberty in academic writing?

Technically, no!

Both ‘rare’ and ‘scarce’ are adjectives that mean ‘something is less or hard to come by’. But they have a subtle difference in their meanings.

Let’s dive in to learn this difference.

‘Rare’ means unique. It indicates that the frequency of something happening or existing is less.

For instance,

 A rare virus was suspected.

Rare items are always few, which leads to high cost!

For instance,

Purple carrots are rare.

On the other hand, ‘scarce’ means insufficient or meagre. It shows that the quantity of something is less.

For instance,

The anthrax vaccine is scarce in developing countries.

Moreover, all scarce items are not rare! At times, non-rare or common items can be scarce too.

For instance,

Water is scarce during summer.

The key difference in the two words lies in the ‘demand’ for a particular thing. When we say ‘rare’, it usually means that the object is valuable but not a necessity, and hence not in demand. However, ‘scarce’ indicates that the object is not available in sufficient quantity to meet its demand. Such distinction in words holds great importance in academic writing.

In academic writing, information related to frequency and quantity is often discussed or reported. So, choosing between ‘scarce’ and ‘rare’ correctly is crucial to avoid discrepancies or misinterpretation.

Could you replace this phrase with a synonym? The word ‘trick’ occurs twice in this short sentence.

It could be a fiddly job, but fortunately, we have a trick to help you!

‘S’ for Shortage, ‘S’ for Scarce!

If there is a shortage in the supply of a particular thing, ‘scarce’ is the right word to use.

When a particular thing is not ordinary or common, use ‘rare’.

There you go! No more head-scratching over these ‘not-so-less’ confusing words!

So, which words should we decode for you next?

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