Frequency adverbs

(Use and position of adverbs of indefinite frequency)

Table of contents – adverbs of indefinite frequency

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Adverbs of indefinite frequency
  2. Position in the sentence
  3. Word order with the verb ‘to be’
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What are frequency adverbs?

For simplicity and especially for English language learners, adverbs of indefinite frequency are regularly called frequency adverbs. Accordingly, they indicate how often something is done or how often something happens. For this reason, they usually appear in simple tenses, particularly in the present simple and are, therefore, signal words for this tense. Only in exceptional cases, they are used in continuous or ing-tenses.

  • Frequency adverbs include the following example words, in the chart by approximate increasing frequency, in the list by decreasing frequency:
    English adverbs of indefinite frequency (frequency adverbs)
    • 100%always
    • continuously
    • constantly
    • regularly
    • habitually
    • usually
    • mostly
    • frequently
    • normally
    • generally
    • often
    • sometimes
    • occasionally
    • seldom
    • rarely
    • hardly ever
    • never0%

What is the position of frequency adverbs in a sentence?

The most common position of adverbs of frequency is in the middle of the sentence. In particular, this place signifies before the main verb or after the first auxiliary verb if one is present. One distinct verb that deviates from this rule is ‘to be’ (exception see below). Compare the following points:

  1. The usual position of the adverbs of indefinite frequency is before the main verb:
    • “Sally sometimes plays tennis.”
    • “My parents often go on holiday to Egypt.”
  2. In the case of multi-part predicates, which means there are several verbs in the sentence, they regularly follow the first auxiliary verb – unless the auxiliary verb stands alone as in incomplete sentences, for example; in which case the adverb must come before it:
    • “Our neighbours have always been nice.”
    • “Natalie would never have done that.”
    • “Tom always says he will help me, but he never does.”
      • In this statement, the adverb ‘neverprecedes the auxiliary verb ‘does’.
  3. Some of the frequency adverbs such as ‘sometimes, occasionally, usually, normally, regularly, often’ may also be used at the beginning or the end of the sentence in some cases. When ‘often’ is placed at the end of the sentence, it is usually combined with ‘very’ or ‘quite’:
    • Sometimes I go to work by bike.”
      • beginning of the sentence
    • “A lot of people eat meat regularly.”
      • end of the sentence
    • “We don’t go on holiday very often.”
      • often’ stands at the end of the sentence together with the additional adverb ‘very’ for intensification.
  4. Moreover, ‘never, seldom, rarely, hardly ever’ can also begin a sentence; but then, the subject and the verb must exchange their position (see inversion):
    • He hardly ever stopped by when he was in town.”
      • In this statement, ‘hardly ever’ stands between the subject and the main verb.
    • Hardly ever did he stop by when he was in town.”
      • In this sentence, the adverb appears before the auxiliary verb and the subject with inversion.
  5. In addition, these adverbs are very common before the modal auxiliary verbs ‘have to’ and ‘used to’:
    • “The neighbours’ kids always have to go home at 10 o’clock.”
    • “I never used to exercise in the morning.”

Word order of frequency adverbs with the verb ‘to be’

As mentioned above, the rule says that frequency adverbs generally come before the full verb. An exception to this is the verb ‘to be’ if it is the only verb in the sentence (then, it is used as a full verb). In such a case, the adverbs follow:

  • The verb ‘to be’ is an exception and regularly precedes adverbs of indefinite frequency:
    • “She’s usually punctual.”
    • “We are always here.”
  • However, in short answers and incomplete sentences, this exception does not apply:
    • “Are you interested in new books about this region? – Yes, I always am.”
      • short answer
    • “Maria says that she’s never mad, but she sometimes is.”
      • This clause is not complete because the necessary adjective ‘mad’ is missing.

Further explanations related to the ‘Frequency adverbs’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use and position of adverbs of indefinite frequency (often, sometimes, normally, usually, never)’ and might be helpful as well: