Suppose that somebody uses my car, and I don't like that. When I find him sitting in my car and starting the engine, can I tell him "You always use my car." as exaggeration for "You sometimes use my car, and I don't like it"?

Suppose that somebody does something unconsciously, and I tell him "You always do [X]." Would be that taken literally or understood as "You sometimes do [X] and I don't like that."?

  • 4
    Whether it's logically true/correct or not, native English speakers are always doing this. Apr 23, 2013 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


The words always and never are indeed used informally to mean often and seldom, but that can be a destructive way of communicating. In fact, many counselors see such generalizations as a potential tripping point in relationships1, and specifically recommend avoiding these words in a negative sense during a conflict, such as:

"You're always leaving your socks on the floor and you never take the garbage out!"

That statement would likely be more accurate if it was reworded:

"You leave your socks on the floor a lot, and it seems like you hardly ever take the garbage out."

however, irrespective of which statement is more accurate, the second will make the hearer less defensive. If the words are being used to say something positive, though, it's okay to heap praise in inaccurately disproportionate amounts:

"You're always so thoughtful; I appreciate everything to you do."

1 see #8 under the "Don'ts"


Here are over 6000 written instances of "you're always doing that". It's unlikely even a single one of them is actually a context where "that" is something like "breathing", so I'm sure they're always exaggerating (and in that usage, I really did use "always" literally).

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