About the meaning of common here states that:​

found frequently in many places or among many people

However, I feel that common is not only limited to the cases when something is frequent, but also it can be used when something is just not unusual, i.e., not as usual as frequent but is just as usual as some. For example, consider this sentence:

It is a common assumption in different areas of research.

I feel that this sentence is not wrong and means using the assumption is not strange and unusual in "different areas of research" (e.g., there are some areas, in which there are 2-3 papers that use it), and not that it is being used frequently, e.g., in 80% of the papers. Am I right? If not, what else can be used in the sentence instead of common for that purpose?

  • In "It is a common assumption in different areas of research", the meaning of common is "belonging to or shared by two or more people, or things".
    – stangdon
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 19:20
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    You are correct, and the word is commonly used in different ways depending on the context.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 19:20
  • I would say in your second quote, that "a common assumption" is used to mean "frequent", as in the first quote. Commented May 14, 2018 at 19:35
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    One common mistake is to look up a word in one dictionary and assume that word is completely defined by a single definition. One dictionary rarely encapsulates all nuances of a word in a single definition, or even a single entry. This page on Wordnik lists more than 30 definitions of the adjective common, including "commonly encountered; standard; usual; prevalent".
    – J.R.
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 19:40
  • Prevalent seems to be what I need according to thefreedictionary.com/prevailing: "Prevalent suggests widespread existence or occurrence but does not imply predominance"
    – Shayan
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 10:13

1 Answer 1


Frequently, and indeed many people or many places doesn't mean most of the time, most people, or most places. That follows through to the proper understanding of the word "common". It does not mean that it is used most of time time, just that you will run into it. It means that it should not be a shock to see it, rather than that you would expect to see it more often than not. Influenza is a common illness, but at any given moment, the vast majority of people do not have it.

As mentioned in the comments, you could also understand common in this case in its sense of being shared between two or more things; however, if that were the intent, I would expect it to be phrased as "it is an assumption common to different areas of research"; on the other hand, the frequent sense of common could be phrased in this case as "it is an assumption common in different areas of research".

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