In many dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, the adverb "often" is defined as follows:

often (adverb): many times

However, this adverb can be used in some ways different from the other adverbs of frequency such as frequently, sometimes, and rarely. For example,

How often do you call your mother?

He travels more often than I do.

He calls home that often.

I know the meaning of the adverb in such examples; however, I wonder why the other adverbs of frequency cannot be used in such ways. Is there any specific grammatical point here?

1 Answer 1


The adverbs frequently and rarely fit easily into any of your example sentences, at least to my ear. The word sometimes doesn't fit, but that is because it doesn't make sense semantically.

You can use more, less, very or extremely with any of frequently, rarely, and often, but you can't say "more sometimes".

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. So, can we say "how rarely do you call your mother?" and "he calls home that rarely"? I have never seen such examples.
    – Later
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 13:53
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    Idiomatically, we habitually ask, for example, How often does that happen? as a rhetorical question (perhaps written with ! rather than ?). Regardless of whether the "expected" answer is frequently / all the time OR rarely / never. Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:11
  • @Later While not common, "that rarely.." is quite possible, given the right context. "He called home after three years, and talked to his mother."... "He calls home that rarely?" Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:24
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    @Later It would be unusual, as a question, unless a context with "rare" is established. But if someone says "I rarely call my mother.", "How rarely?" is quite natural. Commented May 12, 2021 at 15:05
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    @Later I don't think it's treated differently. It's just a different word, and falls into different customary uses. Commented May 12, 2021 at 15:48

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