They sometimes go here and they never go there: using adverbs of frequency
by Liz Walter
Sometimes, always, often, never: these are some of the most common words in English. Unfortunately, they are also some of the words that cause the most problems for students.
Many of my students put them in the wrong place, often because that’s where they go in their own languages. They say things like, ‘I watch always TV in the evening’, when they should say, ‘I always watch TV in the evening’.
There are some basic rules about where to put adverbs of frequency, and if you only remember the first two, you will get them right most of the time!
Here is rule number one: They come after the verb ‘to be’:
Alex is never at home.
The children were sometimes rather noisy.
Rule number two: They come before all other verbs:
The bank always closes on Sunday.
We often travelled by train.
When you are using simple tenses, those two rules are all you need to know, but with tenses that need two verbs, such as the present perfect, there is another rule. Luckily, it’s also quite simple: the adverb goes between the two verbs. It doesn’t make any difference if the verb is ‘to be’ or any other verb.
Here are some examples:
This train has often been late before.
When I come out of school, my mum is usually waiting for me.
Paulo had never seen an elephant before.
Their parents will usually go with them.
The rule is just the same for modal verbs:
You can sometimes hear music coming from his house.
You must never go out alone at night.
Sometimes, usually and often are also used at the beginning of a sentence. We sometimes put a comma after them:
Sometimes Anna comes with me.
Usually the food there is good.
Often, she would bring me a present.
In normal speech, we don’t use never in this way, but occasionally speakers put never (or adverbs with a similar meaning such as seldom or rarely) at the beginning of a sentence. This is done for emphasis, for instance by a politician giving a speech:
Never has there been such an opportunity!
However, this use is complicated, because you have to change the word order of the sentence that follows. So unless you are a very advanced student, there’s not much reason to learn it. Seldom will you need to use it!