sparser; sparsest
: of few and scattered elements
especially : not thickly grown or settled
sparsely adverb
sparseness noun
sparsity noun
Choose the Right Synonym for sparse

meager, scanty, scant, skimpy, spare, sparse mean falling short of what is normal, necessary, or desirable.

meager implies the absence of elements, qualities, or numbers necessary to a thing's richness, substance, or potency.

a meager portion of meat

scanty stresses insufficiency in amount, quantity, or extent.

supplies too scanty to last the winter

scant suggests a falling short of what is desired or desirable rather than of what is essential.

in January the daylight hours are scant

skimpy usually suggests niggardliness or penury as the cause of the deficiency.

tacky housing developments on skimpy lots

spare may suggest a slight falling short of adequacy or merely an absence of superfluity.

a spare, concise style of writing

sparse implies a thin scattering of units.

a sparse population

Examples of sparse in a Sentence

open land is sparse around here
Recent Examples on the Web The barrier was likely constructed about 11,000 years ago to help hunter-gatherers pursue reindeer amid the sparse landscape after the last ice age. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 17 Feb. 2024 Roman alleges that, although Nathan Wade has sparse relevant experience in felony prosecutions, Willis retained him and lavishly paid him in the RICO case. Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 13 Feb. 2024 As the cable bundle shrinks, dollars become sparse. Jon Wilner, The Mercury News, 9 Feb. 2024 Though there are at least a dozen appetizers and pastas, and around seven main courses, the menu looks sparse at first. Pete Wells, New York Times, 6 Feb. 2024 Competition is looking sparse in the Republican party, with only two candidates remaining and four more months of primary elections. Javier Zarracina, USA TODAY, 6 Feb. 2024 Her prose is sparse and fragmented, told in verse-like glimpses. Emily Zemler, Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2024 And with funding for early-stage biotechs still sparse, leadership opted to cut some positions and use the savings to fill new ones over the coming months. Jason Mast, STAT, 16 Jan. 2024 All the wheeling and dealing before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline left things sparse, surely giving the occupants more room to roam. Roderick Boone, Charlotte Observer, 9 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sparse.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin sparsus spread out, from past participle of spargere to scatter — more at spark

First Known Use

1753, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sparse was in 1753

Dictionary Entries Near sparse

Cite this Entry

“Sparse.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


sparser; sparsest
: of few and scattered elements
especially : not thickly grown or settled
sparsely adverb
sparseness noun
sparsity noun

More from Merriam-Webster on sparse

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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