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English grammar explanations (frequency adverbs).

Understanding frequency adverbs.

The basics:

Frequency adverbs talk about how often something happens. The most common frequency adverbs are:

NEVER - RARELY - HARDLY EVER - OCCASIONALLY* - SOMETIMES* - OFTEN - USUALLY* - NEARLY ALWAYS - ALWAYS.

The first is the least frequent (never) and the last is the most frequent (always). So, for example, sometimes is more frequent than occasionally and less frequent than often.      top arrow

Frequency adverb position in a sentence.

It is important to remember the position of frequency adverbs in a sentence:

The frequency adverbs marked with an * above, can be used at the beginning of a sentence. The other adverbs mentioned above cannot usually be used in this front position with any verb:

Occasionally we take a walk in the park.
Sometimes our grandmother comes to see us.
Usually there are a lot of ducks on the lake.
Sometimes we must do as we are told.
Always I go running after work.

All of the adverbs above can go into a mid-position in a sentence. The mid-position varies depending on the type of verb. For most verbs, the frequency adverb goes before the verb:

I always take the train to university.
John hardly ever finds time to see his friends.
Birds sometimes visit our garden looking for food.
I always go running after work.

Frequency adverbs that can take mid-position are usually placed after the verb to be:

John and Mary are often at the shopping centre.
My little brother is always hungry.
There are occasionally clouds over the island.
The train station is nearly always full of people.

Frequency adverbs are also placed after the modal auxiliaries:

I could never finish the crossword.
We must always be home by 10 o'clock.
Going back will rarely be the same as the first time.

Frequency adverbs like never and always must take a front position in the imperative form because there is no subject:

Never cross the road until I tell you.
Always finish your homework before you go out.

Frequency adverbs are usually placed after the first auxiliary in compound tenses:

He had often been arrested for drinking and driving.
It has occasionally been said that alcohol is bad for your health.

But when one of the parts of the compound verb is a modal auxiliary, the position can vary:

You must often have been fed up with studying English.
You must have often been fed up with studying English.
She may sometimes have gone out secretly.
She may have sometimes gone out secretly.

Frequency adverbs are not usually used in continuous tenses but there is an exception with always. This is most common with when we complain about someone's behaviour:

That dog is always peeing in our back garden!
You're always copying me! Please, stop it!

The frequency adverb never becomes ever in negative sentences with not:

I never see John and Mary these days.
I don't ever see John and Mary these days.

When there's a negative of the verb to be or a modal auxiliary, the frequency adverb in a following position will also follow not:

He isn't usually here before 8 o'clock.
There aren't always a lot of seats on the train.
You cannot always win.
 

Links to exercises on the frequency adverbs:

- Exercise on frequency adverbs in the present simple

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