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From Middle High German selten, selden, from Old High German seltan, from Proto-Germanic *seldanē. Cognate with English seldom, Saterland Frisian säilden (seldom), West Frisian selden, komselden (rare, seldom), Dutch zelden, Danish sjælden, Norwegian sjelden, Swedish sällan, Faroese sjáldan, Icelandic sjaldan.


  • IPA(key): /ˈzɛltən/, [ˈzɛltən], [ˈzɛltn̩]
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selten (strong nominative masculine singular seltener or (uncommon) seltner, not comparable)

  1. rare, infrequent, uncommon, scarce
  2. unusual, curious

Usage notes[edit]

  • The contracted comparative seltner is per se rare, but is occasionally used in attributive position: ein noch seltneres Phänomen − "an ever rarer phenomenon". This is done to avoid the three consecutive reduced syllables in selteneres etc.


Derived terms[edit]



  1. seldom; rarely
    Er ist selten unfreundlich.
    He’s rarely ever unfriendly.
  2. (chiefly informal, with adjective) unusually; extremely [from 18th c. or older]
    Der Typ war ja selten unfreundlich!
    That guy was extremely unfriendly!
    Das ist selten dämlich.
    That’s peculiarly stupid.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The two senses are distinguishable by context and intonation.


See also[edit]

probability 100 % ~90 % ~50 % ~10 % 0 %
Adverb immer fast immer, meistens sehr häufig, sehr oft öfters, des öfteren, häufig, oft gelegentlich, manchmal, zuweilen nicht häufig, nicht oft selten sehr selten, fast nie nie

Further reading[edit]

  • selten” in Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache
  • selten” in Uni Leipzig: Wortschatz-Lexikon
  • selten” in Duden online