Adverbs of Frequency
Adverbs of frequency (sometimes called frequency adverbs) tell us how often something happens or is the case; they can describe verbs and adjectives, but they do not modify other adverbs.
Range of frequency
Frequency adverbs can range in frequency from 100% of the time (always) to 0% of the time (never). The following table gives some examples of different adverbs expressing the full range of frequency:
Notice how the frequency adverbs above are split into two categories: definite and indefinite. Let’s take a look at each.
Adverbs of definite frequency
Adverbs of definite frequency describe a specific or exact range of time for when something occurs or is the case. Some common examples are:
- biannually (This can mean either “twice in a year” or “every two years,” depending on context.)
- quarterly (Meaning “four times in a year, at the end of every quarter”.)
- every minute (Minutely means the same thing, but is much less commonly used.)
- every second (We do not say secondly, because this means “in the second place.”)
Adverbs of definite frequency modify verbs and generally appear at the beginning or end of the sentence. (The “-ly” adverbs come only at the end, though.) If appearing at the beginning of a sentence, they are usually offset by a comma. For example:
- “I run eight miles daily.”
- “Every year, our office holds a big raffle for charity.”
- “He makes a point of going to his local bar once a week.”
- “Hourly, you need to update me on your progress.” (incorrect)
Note that most of the “-ly” adverbs above can also function as adjectives, as in “yearly meetings,” “monthly report,” “hourly updates,” etc.
Adverbs of indefinite frequency
The frequency adverbs that are used most often, however, are adverbs of indefinite frequency. As the name suggests, these are adverbs that give a sense of frequency but do not specify exactly how often something happens or is the case. Unlike definite frequency adverbs, these can modify both verbs and adjectives, but their usage for each differs.
If they are modifying verbs, the adverbs of frequency usually come before the main verb in a sentence:
- “We usually go to the movies on Sundays.” (correct)
- “We go usually to the movies on Sundays.” (incorrect)
Here are some more examples:
- “Bethany always runs late for work in the morning.”
- “I never get what I want!”
- “We seldom see her anymore.”
- “He travels to Europe frequently.”
Notice how frequently appears at the end of the sentence in the last example. Certain frequency adverbs—usually, sometimes, normally, occasionally, often, and frequently—can appear at the beginning or end of a main clause as well as before the verb they modify. If they appear at the beginning, they are usually (but not always) followed by a comma. For example:
- “Usually, I would go to the movies on Sundays, but not this time.”
- “He comes up to visit sometimes.”
- “Occasionally I’ll read a romance novel as a guilty pleasure.”
The adverbs always, seldom, rarely, hardly ever, and never can also appear at the end of a sentence or clause; however, they do not go at the beginning unless they are creating a special emphasis, in which case the sentence structure changes. For example:
- “Never have I felt so insulted!”
- “Rarely does she leave the house unattended.”
- “Seldom is it that we part on good terms.”
Frequency adverbs are often used to modify verbs that are in the present simple tense, which is used when we speak about habits, general facts, and timetables.
However, we can also use them with other verb tenses. For example:
Notice that in the second example, the adverb rarely appears after the auxiliary verb have and before the main verb seen. This is always the case when we use auxiliary verbs:
- “She will occasionally go for walks alone.”
- “You can seldom see very far because of the fog.”
- “I will never be an actor!”
Notice that in the final example, never is modifying the linking verb be and appears before it. This is always the case if be is used with an auxiliary verb; most of the time, however, adverbs of frequency appear after the verb be. For example:
- “That is often the case.”
- “This class is always a bore!”
- “She was never very friendly.”
Adverbs of frequency can also modify adjectives, in which case they come after the verb be. This is because be is a linking verb (not a main verb), and the adverbs modify the predicative adjective(s) associated with it.
For example, compare how the adverb of frequency always is used with the main verb have and the linking verb be in the following examples:
- “I always have lunch at one o’clock.”
- “I am always late for work.”
In the first sentence, always is modifying the verb have, whereas in the second sentence, it is modifying the adjective late.
Here are some other examples:
- “The dog is rarely quiet.”
- “The trains are occasionally late, but they are generally on time.”
- “She is often alone, but I don’t think she minds.”
Putting extra emphasis on be
The only time adverbs of frequency come before the verb be (when it is not used with an auxiliary verb) is when be is given extra emphasis in a sentence. For example:
- “I never was fond of his writing.”
When we read this, we can hear the stress being put on the word was. Though it comes before was, the adverb never is actually modifying the adjective fond.
Note that this construction can also be used when the adverb modifies be rather than an adjective, as in:
- “You occasionally are a nit-picker.”
If we take the emphasis off be, however, the adverb would come after it as usual.