Position of adverbs of frequency

The position of adverbs of frequency is often very tricky. However, there are several good rules that you can follow.

Let's divide adverbs of frequency into two groups.

Group "a": always, continually, frequently, occasionally, often, once, twice, periodically, repeatedly, sometimes, usually.
Group "b": ever, hardly ever, never, rarely, scarcely ever, seldom.

Adverbs in both groups are normally placed:

  1. After the simple tenses of "to be":
    • He is always in time for meals.
  2. Before the simple tenses of all other verbs:
    • They sometimes stay up all night.

With compound tenses, they are placed after the first auxiliary, or—with interrogative verbs—after "auxiliary + subject":

  • He can never understand.
  • You have often been told not to do that.
  • Have you ever ridden a camel?

"Used to" and "have to" prefer the adverb in front of them:

  • You hardly ever have to remind him; he always remembers.

Frequency adverbs are often placed before auxiliaries when these are used alone, in addition to remarks or in answers to questions:

    • Person A: Can you park your car near the shops?
    • Person B: Yes, I usually can.
  • I know I should take exercise, but I never do.

and when in a compound verb, the auxiliary is stressed:

  • I never can remember. She hardly ever has met him.

Similarly when "do" is added for emphasis:

  • I always do arrive in time!

But emphasis can also be given by stressing the frequency adverb and leaving it in its usual position after the auxiliary:

  • You should always check your oil before starting.

Adverbs in group (a) above can also be put at the beginning or end of a sentence or clause.

"always", "often"

The adverb "always" is rarely found at the beginning of a sentence/clause except with imperatives.

  • Always wash your hands before the meal!

"often", if put at the end, normally requires "very" or "quite":

  • Often he walked.
  • He walked quite often.

Adverbs in group (b) above: "hardly ever", "never", "rarely" etc. (but not "ever" alone), can also be put at the beginning of a sentence, but inversion of the following main verb then becomes necessary:

"hardly" / "scarcely ever", "never", "rarely" and "seldom" are not used with negative verbs.

"never", "ever"

"never" is chiefly used with an affirmative verb, never with a negative one. It normally means "at no time"

  • He never saw her again.
  • I've never eaten snails.
  • They never eat meat, (habit)
  • I've never had a better flight.

"never + affirmative" can sometimes replace an ordinary negative:

  • I waited but he never turned up. (Meaning: He didn't turn up)

"never + interrogative" can be used to express the speaker's surprise at the non-performance of an action:

  • Has he never been to Japan? I'm surprised, because his wife is Japanese.