Frequency (…a… vs. …every…)

1. What is frequency?

Frequency tells us how often something is done.

There are various structures to describe frequency. Two of these are:

  • (x times) a (time period)
  • (x times) every (y time periods)

2. (x times) a (time period)

One of the easiest ways to talk about frequency is the pattern:

  • (x times) a (time period)

‘a’ = one
So ‘three times a day’ = three times in one day

Special words for ‘one time’ and ‘two times’

There are special words for ‘one time’ and ‘two times’:

one time = once
two times = twice

x timesatime periodsample sentence
one time / onceadayI call my parents once a day.
two times / twiceaweekPetra goes to the cinema twice a week.
three timesamonthThe model club meets three times a month.
four timesayearExams are held four times a year.

3. Examples using (x times) a (time period)

I have a birthday once a year.Michelle calls her mum twice a week.
Dave and I go to the pub three times a week. Louisa has work three afternoons a week.
The company has a general meeting four times a year.Byron changes his car once a decade.

4. (x times) every (y time periods)

If you want to talk about more than one time period (e.g. 2 days, 4 weeks, or 5 months), change ‘a’ to ‘every’:

  • (x times) every (y time periods)
x timeseveryy time periods
one time / onceevery2 days
two times / twiceevery4 weeks
three timesevery9 months
four timesevery10 years

Note: In this pattern you can drop the words ‘one time’ or ‘once’:
I go to the park once every 2 weeks = I go to the park every 2 weeks.

5. Examples using (x times) every (y time periods)

The Olympics are once every four years.When cooking the turkey, baste it once every 30 minutes.
The school has an activity day once every 3 months.James seems to have a new girlfriend every six months.
We talk on the phone three or four times every two weeks.The instructions say you should take this medicine three times every five days.

6. Comparing the patterns

(x times) a (time period) (x times) every (time periods)
I brush my teeth twice a day.
(= two times in one day)
I wash my clothes once every three days.
(= one time in three days)
Alan goes to school five times a week.
(= five times in one week)
Alan has an exam once every three months.
(= one time in three months)
We go to the cinema once a month.
(= one time in one month)
We meet twice every three weeks.
(= two times in three weeks)
Luke and Hassam go on holiday three times a year.
(= three times in one year)
Luke and Hassam get paid twice every six months.
(= two times in six months)
I get a haircut once a month.
(= one time in one month)
My girlfriend gets a haircut once every two weeks.
(= one time in two weeks)