Adverbs of Frequency

The most common adverbs of frequency are always, usually, often, sometimes, seldom, rarely, and never. The following chart shows the relative frequencies of these adverbs. It is important to understand that the percentages only show approximate frequencies; other sources will have slightly different numbers. What is important is not the absolute number, but only the relative frequency.

adverb frequency chart

What are adverbs?

Traditionally an adverb is defined as a word that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, or a whole clause or sentence. There are many kinds of adverbs; common types include adverbs of manner that tell how (easily, quietly), adverbs of time that tell when (afterwards, later), adverbs of place and direction that tell where (there, downstairs, backward, up), adverbs of degree that tell how much (very, almost, extremely) and adverbs of frequency that tell how often (always, sometimes, never).

What do we mean by adverbs of frequency?

Adverbs of frequency tell us how often an action takes place.

Are there other adverbs of frequency?

Yes. In addition to the adverbs in the chart above, other common adverbs of frequency include constantly, generally, normally, regularly, frequently, routinely, repeatedly, occasionally, infrequently, and hardly ever.

Where do we put adverbs of frequency?

The basic rule is that adverbs of frequency come before the main verb but after present and past forms of be (am, are, is, was, were). In the case of tenses that use an auxiliary, we put the adverb between the auxiliary and the main verb. The following tables show the position of the adverbs of frequency in affirmative, negative, interrogative, and imperative sentences.


Affirmative Sentences

Subject Auxiliary Adv. of Frequency Main Verb Predicate
The side effects   usually go away after a few hours.
I   sometimes have trouble accessing my favorite web site.
Beethoven   often went to Baden for the summer.
Kevin has never been a fan of SUVs.
Brian has always wanted to own a restaurant.
I will always be grateful to you.


Affirmative Sentences with BE

Subject BE Adv. of Frequency Predicate
The bus is usually on time.
Some people are never satisfied.


Negative Sentences

Subject Auxiliary Adv. of Frequency Main Verb Predicate
Suzanne doesn't usually get involved in politics.
It doesn't often snow here at Christmas.
I don't ever download music from the Internet.


Negative Sentences with BE

Subject BE + not Adv. of Frequency Predicate
Iron supplements aren't usually necessary for men.
Professor Morgan isn't often at a loss for words.


Interrogative Sentences

Auxiliary Subject Adv. of Frequency Main Verb Predicate
Does Kimberly usually have breakfast at home?
Do you always read the fine print?
Did Chris ever play basketball?
Don't you ever get tired?


Interrogative Sentences with BE

BE Subject Adv. of Frequency Predicate
Are you always so cheerful in the morning?
Isn't Ted usually here by eight o'clock?


Imperative Sentences

Adv. of Frequency Verb Predicate
Always do your best!
Never forget this rule!
Always be truthful!


Short Answers with Adverbs of Frequency

Subject Adv. of Frequency Auxiliary or BE
A: Will you ever change?
B:I

never

will.
A:Has Shirley ever been to Austria?
B:She

never

has.
A: Do they ever study together?
B:They

sometimes

do.
A: Is Jessica ever wrong?
B:She

seldom

is.


Distribution of Adverbs of Frequency by Sentence Type

Adv. of Frequency Affirmative Negative Interrogative Imperative
always X X X X
usually X X X  
often X X X  
sometimes/occasionally X   X  
rarely/seldom/hardly ever/scarcely ever1 X      
never1 X     X
ever   X X  

1Although used in sentences with affirmative form, the meaning is negative.


Distribution of Adverbs of Frequency by Sentence Position

Adv. of Frequency Initial Medial Final
always   X  
usually X X  
often   X X
sometimes/occasionally X X X
rarely/seldom/hardly ever/scarcely ever2 X X  
never2 X X  
ever   X  

2If placed in initial position, subject-verb inversion occurs. See below for examples.

Subject-Verb Inversion

Negative Adverb Auxiliary Subject Main Verb Predicate
Never did I think I would see my book in print.
Seldom have we had a professor with such enthusiasm.
"Scarcely had he finished speaking when the door of the queen's apartment opened...."


Relative Frequencies of the Adverbs3

ADVERB FREQUENCY
never 202
often 153
always 141
ever 103
sometimes 63
usually 51
generally 39
normally 20
constantly 16
rarely 16
regularly 16
frequently 15
repeatedly 15
routinely 11
occasionally 7
almost never 3
seldom 3


3The data is from a 400,000-word corpus of articles from American newspapers and business magazines. I selected the articles for the corpus and did the analysis on my computer using Concordance 3.0 (opens new window). Although the corpus is relatively small, it nevertheless gives a fair idea of the relative frequencies of these adverbs. It is interesting to note that hardly ever and scarcely ever did not appear even once, but almost never appeared three times. Note also the high frequency of generally and normally.

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This page was last modified on 06/15/10

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