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What is the difference between usually and often?

For example, I don't understand what is the difference between then in the following sentences:

"I go there often"

"I go there usually"

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    Please add examples of the information that confused you. – Nathan Tuggy Mar 12 '16 at 2:58
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    Replace 'usually' with 'generally' and 'often' with 'more frequently'. More frequently means many times at short intervals. Now try some examples by yourself and edit the question! Quick... or else the question gets closed. – Maulik V Mar 12 '16 at 5:07
  • @NathanTuggy Which examples I can add while I really don't know the differences between them? It is something which supposed to be seem as a basic question for English native speaker rather than for the learner which this site is for him. That's why it's not fair to close this question by English native speakers. Sorry. – Judicious Allure Mar 12 '16 at 19:24
  • @Assiduous: I don't care about examples of what you correctly understand. I (and others) are looking for examples of what you don't understand. A question needs to explain what it's asking in order to be answered. "I ran a Google search" is not useful information; "I searched for XYZ and ran across a page that said ABC, but that confused me when I saw another page that said DEF", however, is. – Nathan Tuggy Mar 12 '16 at 19:31
  • Kindly, I asked very simple question about the using of the "often" and "usually". For a moment I don't know when to use this one rather the other one. Or for example, I can say: "I go there often" or "I go there usually" – Judicious Allure Mar 12 '16 at 19:34
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The nuance can be demonstrated with a couple of examples:

I usually have a cup of coffee in the morning.

I've often heard that pop song on the radio.

often expresses frequency. usually expresses the customary. What is customary occurs with some frequency, but what is frequent is not necessarily customary.

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My understanding is:

  • often measures the frequency of an event. I would estimate it to be about 60% of the time.

  • usually expresses a routine, and implies there are exceptions to that routine.

I bike to work.

He goes to work by bike every time.

I usually bike to work.

He goes to work by bike every time, but he knows sometimes he makes exceptions. Maybe sometimes he doesn't bike on impulse, or whenever the road is slippery on winter.

I often bike to work.

He goes to work by bike about 60% of the time. It is strongly implied he has other means of transportation he uses regularly.


The confusing thing is, in many sentences usually can be replaced with a measurement of frequency: most of the time. To compare with often, the probability of it happening should be around 80% to 95% of the time.

However replacing may have implications, by doing this the meaning of the phrase may slightly change, especially if the word usually is being used in a manual or a documentation.

The manual says: Classified documents usually come with a certificate.

In this sentence, the main meaning of usually is best conveyed with should. It is a routine that expresses you are supposed to find a certificate bundled with the classified document, and not finding one is unusual, as in anomalous.

If you remove the word usually:

The manual says: Classified documents come with a certificate.

The routine is stronger, should becomes must. The presence of the word usually might be an acknowledgement that exceptionally it happens to be missing.

The manual says: Classified documents come with a review enveloppe most of the time.

In this sentence, the main meaning of most of the time is conveyed with probably. It is a frequency that makes no assumption about whether it should raise questions whenever the review enveloppe is absent: It is absent but it might not be missing, as it might be intended that there isn't one in the first place. It may be out of the ordinary not to find one, but it's not necessarily anomalous.


If you swap the words usually and often, it changes the frequency of the event as usually occurs more than often. But sometimes the words usually and often cannot be swapped without causing the entire sentence to become weird and incoherent.

Q: Is the program frozen? Press CTRL-ALT-DELETE.

A: I just did, the screen isn't showing up.

Q: Huh? Wait... Strange... It usually works.

The person asking the question is surprised CTRL-ALT-DELETE didn't work. It's an exception, it is unusual. The element of surprise wouldn't happen if he said "It often works". Even though it is a routine, just saying "It works" similarly to "I bike to work" doesn't fit in this sentence, the word usually is necessary to confirm it is an exception.

I often tamper with my emails by changing the date the email is sent.

In this sentence, he is doing the unethical practice of faking the date his emails are sent. It is implied there is a missing context but the sentence stands on its own. With this sentence alone, you could put the word usually instead of often to change the frequency, but the meaning of the sentence is changed so much it doesn't make any sense as no one ever has a reason of faking the date of every single one of their emails.

However, when you contextualize that sentence:

I often tamper with my emails by changing the date the email is sent when I need to pretend I have completed my assignments on time.

You could swap often with usually and it would change the frequency whilst keeping the sentence coherent. Whenever he's past the date limit, he consistently fakes the date unless he has a strong reason not to do so.

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