Seldomly – Meaning & Definition

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The English language often applies unnecessary variants to adverbs, and rather than mark them as incorrect, we accept them into both speech and text.

This is incredibly frustrating to English language learners.

Learning the detailed nuances that often apply to English takes time and regularly confuses native speakers as well. This article explores the addition of -ly to the word seldom, an adverb often used to explain something that rarely happens.

Even though the -ly is unneeded, it often sounds better when applied and is accepted when used despite not being grammatically correct.

What Does Seldom Mean?

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Seldom is an adverb used to describe an event or action that does not occur frequently.

For example:

  • I seldom see my next-door neighbor, but when I do, we talk for hours.
  • My students seldom turn in anything they need to complete at home, even when they have been absent.
  • I seldom stop for coffee, but when I do, I enjoy supporting small, local businesses.

Is Seldomly a Word?

Seldomly is an unnecessary variant of seldom. Seldom is already an adverb, so adding the adverbial -ly doesn’t change its meaning. Using seldomly is not a serious error, however.

Your spell check probably catches it, and most major dictionaries either don’t list the word or list it as obsolete. Yet to many English speakers, seldom without the -ly just doesn’t feel right in certain situations (a similar effect is seen with thusly, an unnecessary variant of the adverb thus).

If you are an English speaker and you think seldomly sounds better than seldom in a sentence you’re writing, there is no reason to go against your instincts.

For example:

  • I seldomly allow my children to sit all day in front of a video game, but when I was sick, I made an exception.
  • The horses seldomly come to the upper fields, but they were there this morning eating the new grass.

The Origin of Seldom

Seldom vs. Seldomly Ngram
Seldom and seldomly usage trend.

Seldom goes back to Old English (and through the centuries, it was variously spelled seldun, seldenn, seldon, seildunn, and seeldum, until the modern spelling was settled around the 18th century), and it has always been an adverb to mean not often or infrequent.

Seldomly first appeared many centuries after seldom had already been in use, and it was never the standard form. Still, in this case, even the superfluous form is many centuries old.

Let’s Review

Seldom is used in a sentence to highlight that the action or event that follows rarely occurs or is an infrequent occurrence. Although it is already an adverb, many people add an -ly to the end to make it sound better.

Despite being unnecessary and technically grammatically incorrect, it is an acceptable addition and is widely used in both formal and formal materials.