What are other adverbs that can't be negated just like "sometimes" and "occasionally"?

  1. I don't sometimes drink milk.

  2. I don't occasionally drink milk.

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    You could try looking up synonyms for occasionally! Jun 19 at 7:32
  • @Kate Bunting, Yes, but there would be no information about whether or not they can't be negated. Jun 19 at 8:15
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    Minor point: in fact both of those examples could be valid. Imagine the scenario where saying that someone sometimes or occasionally drinks milk was seen as some kind of insult. The person could reply, in indignation, "How dare you! I don't sometimes (or occasionally) drink milk! I drink milk pretty much every waking hour!" That's a peculiar case though, and doesn't affect the gist of your question. (Which is why I said it was a minor point.)
    – tkp
    Jun 19 at 8:15
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    In most contexts (as I'm sure OP knows), adverbial sometimes, occasionally would come before negating auxiliary don't. The difference in meaning is easier to see with, say, often. Thus (1) I often don't feel hungry = "There are many occasions when don't feel hungry" (it's relatively common for me not to feel hungry), as opposed to (2) I don't often feel hungry (making the point that it's relatively rare for me to feel hungry). Jun 19 at 10:43
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    It's perfectly idiomatic to put often before OR after negating don't as in my examples, and I assume you can understand how that changes the meaning. It's NOT normally idiomatic to put sometimes, occasionally before don't as in the examples in your question text. The only context I can think of where doing this would be acceptable is if someone just said You sometimes / occasionally drink milk and you were emphatically refuting that assertion (with the meaning No, you're mistaken. I never drink milk!). Jun 20 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


No adverbs of frequency can be negated the way you suggest. This is because an adverb of frequency defines how often you do something. When you define how often you don't do something, you are actually defining a break in a routine, and we would instead refer to the break as something we do rather than something we don't.

For example, "I sometimes drink milk" means you only drink milk occasionally. The opposite to that would be to say "I drink milk often".

However, if you said that you always drank milk - perhaps suggesting that it is your drink of choice, or that you drink it every day - you could make an exception to this by saying "sometimes I don't drink milk", which would mean that there are occasions when you drink something else. It works with 'occasionally', too, and likely most adverbs of frequency could be used in this negative way.

  • is this the only position of "sometimes" that can have this meaning? I mean this one "sometimes I don't drink milk", which would mean that there are occasions when you drink something else." Can "I don't drink milk sometimes" and "I sometimes don't drink milk" have this meaning too? Jun 20 at 7:51
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    It doesn't usually make sense to say I sometimes don't [verb] or Sometimes I don't [verb] unless [to verb] is something you would normally be doing continuously or often. So I sometimes / Sometimes I don't know what day of the week it is are fine, but I sometimes don't run a marathon is probably never a credible utterance, and I don't sometimes run a marathon would only really make sense as a "quirky" way of disagreeing with someone who just said You sometimes run a marathon (instead of the more natural emphatic refutation: I never run a marathon). Jun 20 at 15:41
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    I don't see any difference between A - There are many occasions when I don't know what day of the week it is and B - It's common for me not to know what day of the week it is. But you should note that it's not idiomatic in English to say I don't sometimes know what day of the week it is (for much the same reason that the two examples in your question text are not idiomatic). It matters exactly where you put adverbs like sometimes, always, often,... - some different positions have different meanings, and some are simply "unnatural" (or would imply very peculiar meanings). Jun 23 at 11:35
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    (I don't often know what day of the week it is is perfectly valid, though. But it doesn't mean the same as I often don't know what day of the week it is.) Jun 23 at 11:37
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    I mean utterances like Sometimes I don't drink milk and I sometimes don't drink milk are only "natural" in some specific limited context where you normally would drink milk (obviously no-one drinks milk continuously). Whereas Sometimes I / I sometimes don't know what day it is is always "natural", because people normally know what day it is all the time. But I don't sometimes know what day it is is practically always "weird" - in fact, I can't think of any context where you might say that. And I don't sometimes drink milk is only valid as "refutation", not "assertion". Jun 28 at 11:23

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