Ever taken a survey?
Maybe it was one of those annoying phone surveys.
Maybe a business lured you into doing one online with promises of being entered into a raffle for $500. Or maybe you filled one out to help a nonprofit or research group.
Depending on the type of survey, you may have been asked how often you do something. You were probably given choices such as “never,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” “often” and “always.”
Now, I do not imagine you are learning French so you can sit around filling out surveys all day.
But if you do not know the French equivalents for these words, called adverbs of frequency, even your basic conversational skills will be lacking.
For instance, saying, Je ne regarde pas des films d’horreur (I do not watch horror movies) gets the basic point across. But saying je ne regarde jamais des films d’horreur (I never watch horror movies) is stronger and clearer.
Or if you want to impress at a job interview, do not simply say, Je suis pontuel. (I am punctual.)
Say je suis toujours à l’heure! (I am always on time!)
Learning some basic French adverbs of frequency will help you be more precise and descriptive in your speaking and writing.
When you start learning a language, you form simple phrases and sentences. As you grow in your knowledge, however, the goal is to build more complex and expressive thoughts.
Here, we will introduce you to the most common French adverbs of frequency in order from least often (jamais, never) to most often (toujours, always).
We will give examples of each and show you how to go more in-depth with synonyms and ways to use the word.
What Are Adverbs of Frequency?
The good news: “adverb of frequency” is one of those grammatical terms that actually sounds a bit more dramatic and intimidating than the concept itself.
In case you need a refresher, an adverb in French, just like in English, is a word that describes a verb, adjective or other adverb. Consider this basic English example: I walked briskly to the grocery store.
“Briskly” is an adverb because it modifies the verb “walked.” It describes the manner in which you walked.
Recall that French adverbs generally precede the verb, as in Il a lentement marché au supermarché. (He walked to the grocery store slowly.)
Adverbs of frequency are a specific type of adverb. They answer the question of how often something was done, whether it is “never,” “sometimes,” “always,” etc.
We will give you the French equivalents for these adverbs of frequency and several more in this article.
How to Practice Adverbs of Frequency
You have probably realized by now that it is hard to master a new French concept on the first try. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of discipline to learn a language. But it can be done!
One simple exercise you can use to specifically practice adverbs of frequency is to give yourself a survey.
Not all surveys are annoying. This one can be very helpful. You can tell, in French, how often you do the following activities. If you want to be extra creative, you can add your own as well.
- Voyager à l’étranger (Travel abroad)
- Dîner au restaurant (Eat at a restaurant)
- Faire de l’exercice (Exercise)
- Lire les journaux (Read newspapers)
- Aller à la plage (Go to the beach)
- Regarder un film (Watch a movie)
- Aller chez le dentiste (Go to the dentist)
- Écrire un email (Write an email)
- Rencontrer des amis (Meet friends)
If you are a visual learner, try reinforcing adverbs of frequency with this helpful video from Learn French with Pascal. It contains some of the words we will cover below—review is always good, and it can be beneficial to hear, not only read, an explanation.
In order to further expand your vocabulary, check out this Quizlet set that covers adverbs of time, which are closely related to adverbs of frequency. Adverbs of time are words such as “tomorrow,” “now” and “before.”
If you still need to review adverbs in general, this tutorial and quiz is a great resource.
As always, the best way to practice grammar and vocabulary is to read and listen to authentic French in order to see what this actually looks like in context. FluentU is the best tool to accomplish this, because it gives you real-world French videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more—that have been transformed into personalized language lessons.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like movie trailers, funny commercials, movie trailers and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then you see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you’ve learned in a given video with FluentU’s adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like “fill in the blank.”
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
You’ll receive video recommendations that suit your interest and current level of progress.
Always, Sometimes, Never: The Demystifying Guide to French Adverbs of Frequency
1. Jamais (Never)
Jamais is most often used in the context of a sentence such as:
Je ne dis jamais des gros mots. (I never say bad words.)
Ne and jamais form a unit, just like ne… pas. The difference is that, while ne… pas simply means “not,” ne… jamais takes it a step further and means “never.” Recall that the conjugated verb goes in between.
Similar negative constructions in French include:
Ne… personne (no one, nobody) → Tu n’aides personne! (You are helping no one!)
Ne… rien (nothing, not anything) → Il est allé au centre-commércial, mais il n’a rien acheté. (He went to the mall, but he bought nothing/he didn’t buy anything.)
Ne… nulle part (nowhere, not anywhere) → J’ai cherché le livre, mais je ne pouvais le trouver nulle part. (I searched for the book, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.)
Jamais may also be used by itself as an exclamation:
Vous me mentez? (Are you lying to me?)
2. Rarement (Rarely)
This one is pretty simple. It is less strong than jamais, but communicates that you do something very sparingly—it is certainly not a normal thing for you to do. A basic example:
Il fait rarement des erreurs. (He rarely makes mistakes.)
3. Quelquefois (Sometimes)
Quelquefois has the same meaning as “sometimes” in English, which you can remember simply by breaking down the word:
Quelque (some) + fois (times) → quelquefois (sometimes)
Parfois is a synonym and may be used interchangeably with quelquefois.
Quelquefois/Parfois, on prend de la glace après les cours. (Sometimes, we get ice cream after class.)
To be more specific about how often you do something, you may combine fois (times), a number and a unit of time. You can think of it like this:
Action + Number + Fois (times) + Par (literally, “by”) + Unit of time
Here is an example:
Je nage + deux + fois + par + semaine → Je nage deux fois par semaine. (I swim twice a week.)
This next example is similar but does not contain par or a unit of time, because the timeframe we are talking about is the subject’s whole lifetime.
Elle a voyagé en Europe trois fois. (She has traveled in Europe three times.)
4. Souvent (Often)
Ah, another one that should be quite simple for you to understand if you come from an English-speaking background.
Souvent means “often.” It refers to something you do more than “sometimes,” but not all the time.
Elles vont souvent au théâtre. (They go to the theater often.)
5. D’habitude (Usually)
This one is not difficult to remember. Just think of the word “habit.”
Put simply, d’habitude describes something you do an a regular basis, like your work schedule or your morning routine.
D’habitude, je travaille dans l’après-midi. (Usually, I work in the afternoons.)
Furthermore, d’habitude has several synonyms, so you can easily keep variety in your French! Some include:
- Normalement (Normally)
- Habituellement (Usually, habitually)
Je me lève habituellement à six heures quarante. (I usually get up at six forty.)
6. Toujours (Always)
Another simple one: “always,” something you do all the time or whenever you can.
Ils arrivent toujours à l’heure. (They always arrive on time.)
Toujours comes from a combination of the word tout (all, every) and the word jours (days).
You may use a similar pattern to make your description more specific:
Tous (m.) or Toutes (f.) + les + period of time
You might specify a day of the week, as in tous les dimanches (every Sunday). Or use a more generic period of time like toutes les semaines (every week).
Here is an example in context:
Tu dois te brosser les dents tous les matins. (You must brush your teeth every morning.)
Reading this article may not have put you into a raffle for $500, but now you can speak more precisely about how often you do certain things.
And besides, learning French is priceless!
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
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