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We often use the present continuous tense with "always" to express present annoying habits,

"She is always losing her keys" (her present habit that annoys me)

"She is always eating without washing hands first" (her present habit that annoys me)

My question is how to express it in negative sentences.

Is it correct to say "She is not always washing hands before eating" to express a present annoying habit?

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    What's wrong with saying: "She never washes her hands ...." The adverb "never" is the opposite of "always".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 2 at 4:57
  • As @Mari-LouA says in passing you need to include the possessive "her" before "hands" in the sentence whatever else you do. What she needs to do before eating (and needs to do even more before preparing food) is to wash her own hands. Omitting "her" not only sounds like something a non-native speaker might say but implies that she can wash any hands that might be available (such as those of a child, a doll, an ape or even any severed hands that might be lying around) and still not annoy the speaker. We "shake hands" with other people but we, normally, wash our own hands.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 2 at 7:17
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Your example is not correct. As others have said, you could use "never", but it sounds like you're asking about how to use the structure "always + -ing" with a negative verb to keep the function of showing annoyance at repeated behaviour.

You can say, "She's always not washing her hands before eating", which retains the feeling of annoyance. It's grammatically correct, though it doesn't sound natural to have "not" after "always".

A natural version requires moving the negative somewhere else in the sentence, like "She's always eating without washing her hands."

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  • Some native speakers reject "She's always eating without washing her hands." quora.com/…
    – Tom
    Sep 3 at 1:17
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    @Tom I'm not going to argue with ghosts, but I flatly disagree with Professor Mouat.
    – gotube
    Sep 3 at 1:40
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"She is not always washing hands before eating"

This implies that she sometimes does wash her hands and sometimes does not. "Not always" is equivalent to "sometimes".

Always and never on their own are absolutes. Once you add another word to them you are qualifying them.

As Mari Lou noted in her comment, you would want to use "never" rather than "not always".

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    And, if you do use 'not always', it should be She doesn't always wash her hands before eating. Sep 2 at 7:42

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