I explain the differences between “how many times” and “how often.” Although they are actually quite different, it is common for native speakers to respond as if they are the same.

Overview
How many timesHow often
Total number of timesFrequency of an activity
Answer: numerical adjectiveAnswer: expression or adverb of frequency
Used to ask about past experiences
Can be used to ask about regular activities with expressions or adverbs of frequency

Differences

1.   Number of times something happens or frequency of an activity. 
a. “How many times” refers to the number of times something happens or happened. 

The word “time” is a countable noun and refers to an occasion when something happens.

  • “It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him. He always leaves the dishes next to the dishwasher.”
  • How many times have you been to Disneyland?”
    • “Just once. I went when I was really young though.”
b. “How often” refers to the frequency of an event or activity.

Or more specifically, how many times something occurs within a period of time on a regular basis.

  • “He didn’t tell me how often I was supposed to water the plants.”
  • How often did it happen?”
    • “It would happen 3 times a week until the replacement arrived.”
2.   Responses to “how often” usually include an expression or adverb of frequency.

Examples include: 
–   “every day,” “every other weekend,” etc.
–   “once a week,” “three times a year,” “once every 2 years,” etc.
–   “always,” “seldom,” “rarely,” “never,” etc.

  • How often does he take a vacation?”
    • Once every two years.”
  • How often do you watch Netflix?”
    • Rarely. Since I started my new job, I just haven’t had the time.”

On the other hand, responses to “how many times” are usually numerical adjectives.

  • How many times have you travelled to Tasmania?”
    • Three times, including the one we had to cut short.”
3. Use “how many times” to ask about past experiences and events.

Here, the past simple and present perfect tenses are preferred.

Using “how often” would be asking about regular past events.

  • How many times did it happen?”
    • “It happened three times and then I gave up.”
  • How often did it happen?”
    • “It would happen 3 times a week until the replacement arrived.”
  • How many times have you been to Disneyland?”
    • “Just once. I went when I was really young though.”
  • How often have you been to Disneyland?” 
    • “I’ve probably been there almost every month in the last year.”
4. “How many times” can also be used to ask about regular activities.

This is possible with the help of expressions and adverbs of frequency.

  • How many times do you work out in a week?”
    • “Ideally, about 3-4 times.”
  • How many times do you visit your parents in a month?”
    • “I try to visit every weekend. So 3-4 times a month.

See also: Differences: How many times or How much time


Original posts: 23 April 2021

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