Once in a blue moon (saying how often we do things)

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by Kate Woodford

Are you always saying ‘always’? Do you usually say ‘usually’? Would you like more ways to say how often you do something or how often something happens? Then look no further because this week, we’re looking at interesting alternatives to words such as ‘often’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘rarely’.

Let’s start with ways of saying that we often do things. You can instead say that you do something all the time: It’s a really nice little café – we go there all the time. You can emphasize how often and how regularly you do something (every morning/Thursday/week, etc.) by saying that you do it religiously. (This is used especially for things that you do because you feel you should): He visits his mother religiously, every Thursday evening after work. Another phrase used to mean ‘often and regularly’ is without fail: He goes running three times a week, without fail. A more colourful phrase for this in British English is like clockwork or as regular as clockwork: She’s in that gym every morning at nine o’clock as regular as clockwork.

Meanwhile, if you want to say that someone often does something that annoys you, you can say that they are always doing it. (Notice that present continuous tense.) Sam’s always complaining about something. / She’s always saying she hasn’t got time to read. Another word that people sometimes use negatively in a similar way is constantly: He’s constantly changing his mind.

Let’s now look at words and phrases that mean ‘sometimes’. We can use the word occasionally, meaning ‘sometimes but not often’: I see him occasionally in town. / Occasionally I’ll have a dessert, but it’s quite rare. There are a few very common phrases that we use in the present simple to say that we do a particular thing sometimes, but not often and not regularly.  We might say we do something (every) now and again/then or (every) once in a while or we might use the phrases every so often or from time to time. Every now and then, we have a cup of coffee together. / Once in a while, she calls us for a chat. / He still calls round every so often. / I bump into him from time to time. Using a different tense, if you have done something in the past only a few times, you might say you’ve done it once or twice: We’ve eaten there once or twice but it’s not somewhere we often go.

‘Rarely’ has the synonym seldom: Now we have a baby, we seldom get to the cinema. If you do something very rarely, you may say that you do it once in a blue moon: We do hear from Helen, but it’s once in a blue moon.


16 thoughts on “Once in a blue moon (saying how often we do things)

  1. blanca

    It’ s not that easy for me to get the hang of the subtle nuance of words when I speak and write English. So your posts are incredibly helpful and informational all the time. Particularly the usage of ‘religiously’ interests me. Plus I didn’t know well that ‘constantly’ and ‘always’ can be used in negative way.

    What I want to know more is about the accurate usage of frequency adverb such as ‘provably’, ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, etc. I’m so confused. I hope you will deal with this next time if it’s possible.

    Thank you so much.

  2. Sadia Ikram

    I seldom read the articles but urs persuade me to read them all the time b/c u explain the things quite simple way… thanks…

  3. gurdeep singh

    Great stuff for non native english speaker.i get e-mail from camb dictionary all the time.i miss it once in a while.i read the articles from this blog all the time in order to enhace my english ability.
    I’m looking forward to see another handy article

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