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From Middle English scarce, skarce, scarse, scars, from Old Northern French scars, escars ("sparing, niggard, parsimonious, miserly, poor"; > French échars, Medieval Latin scarsus (diminished, reduced)), of uncertain origin. One theory is that it derives originally from a Late Latin *scarpsus, *excarpsus, a participle form of *excarpere (take out), from Latin ex- + carpere; yet the sense evolution is difficult to trace. Compare Middle Dutch schaers (sparing, niggard), Middle Dutch schaers (a pair of shears, plowshare), scheeren (to shear).



scarce (comparative scarcer, superlative scarcest)

  1. Uncommon, rare; difficult to find; insufficient to meet a demand.
    • 1691, [John Locke], Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money. [], London: [] Awnsham and John Churchill, [], published 1692, →OCLC:
      You tell him silver is scarcer now in England, and therefore risen in value one fifth.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 3, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      My hopes wa'n't disappointed. I never saw clams thicker than they was along them inshore flats. I filled my dreener in no time, and then it come to me that 'twouldn't be a bad idee to get a lot more, take 'em with me to Wellmouth, and peddle 'em out. Clams was fairly scarce over that side of the bay and ought to fetch a fair price.
  2. Scantily supplied (with); deficient (in); used with of.


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



scarce (not comparable)

  1. (archaic, literary) Scarcely, only just.
    • 1646 (indicated as 1645), John Milton, “An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester”, in Poems of Mr. John Milton, [], London: [] Ruth Raworth for Humphrey Mosely, [], →OCLC, page 24:
      The Virgin quite for her requeſt / The God that ſits at marriage feaſt; / He at their invoking came / But with a ſcarce-wel-lighted flame; / And in his Garland as he ſtood, / Ye might diſcern a Cipreſs bud.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “The Author Permitted to See the Grand Academy of Lagado. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume II, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part III (A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdribb, Luggnagg, and Japan), page 78:
      I was at the Mathematical School, where the Maſter taught his Pupils after a Method ſcarce imaginable to us in Europe. The Propoſition and Demonſtration were fairly written on a thin Wafer, with Ink compoſed of a Cephalick Tincture. This the Student was to ſwallow upon a faſting Stomach, and for three days following eat nothing but Bread and Water. As the Wafer digeſted, the Tincture mounted to his Brain, bearing the Propoſition along with it.
    • 1845 February, — Quarles [pseudonym; Edgar Allan Poe], “The Raven”, in The American Review[1], volume I, number II, New York, N.Y., London: Wiley & Putnam, [], →OCLC, page 144:
      And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, / That I scarce was sure I heard you []
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, chapter 4, in Moonfleet, London, Toronto, Ont.: Jonathan Cape, published 1934:
      Yet had I scarce set foot in the passage when I stopped, remembering how once already this same evening I had played the coward, and run home scared with my own fears.
    • 1906 August, Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman”, in Poems, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., published October 1906, →OCLC, part 1, stanza VI, page 48:
      He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, / But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand / As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; / And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, / (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
    • 1931, William Faulkner, Sanctuary, Vintage, published 1993, page 122:
      Upon the barred and slitted wall the splotched shadow of the heaven tree shuddered and pulsed monstrously in scarce any wind.
    • 1969, John Cleese, Monty Python's Flying Circus:
      Well, it's scarce the replacement then, is it?


  1. ^ Stanley, Oma (1937), “I. Vowel Sounds in Stressed Syllables”, in The Speech of East Texas (American Speech: Reprints and Monographs; 2), New York: Columbia University Press, →DOI, →ISBN, § 6, page 16.


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of sarse