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Question Placement of "often"

hirashin

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Dear native English speakers,

Would you tell me where to put "often" ?
Which one is normal?
(1a) My boss often travels to China.
(1b) My boss travels to China often.
(2a) Do you often come to this park?
(2b) Do you come to this park often?

A British person said (2b) is more commonly used than (2a) and (2a) is a bit too formal.
What do you think of this view?

Thanks in advance.
Hirashin from Kyoto, Japan
 

nice gaijin

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1a and 1b sound equally natural to me, although if I swap out "often" for another frequency adverb like "rarely" or "seldom" or "frequently," the 1a structure is more versatile. I think there may be a slight nuance to 1b maybe putting a little more emphasis on asking about the frequency, whereas 1a could be emphasizing who is doing the traveling... when spoken, it depends on where the stress is placed.

I agree with your British friend, 2b sounds better.. Probably for the same reason as above in terms of where the stress is. But also a frequently heard phrase is "do you come here often?" and not "do you often come here?"
 

hirashin

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Thanks for the help, nice gaijin.

I didn't know that you don't say "Do you often come here?"

English seems tremendously difficult to a person who has never lived in any English-speaking areas.
(Does this sentence sound good? Can you say "English is/seems desperately difficult"?)
 

OoTmaster

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I don't think desperate describes something to a certain degree. So I don't think it's correct to say it that way. If I understand your intent for the meaning something like "English is/seems extremely difficult" would express the degree of difficulty. "I'm desperately seeking an easier way to learn English." would be a proper use of desperately.
 

nice gaijin

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Thanks for the help, nice gaijin.

I didn't know that you don't say "Do you often come here?"

English seems tremendously difficult to a person who has never lived in any English-speaking areas.
(Does this sentence sound good? Can you say "English is/seems desperately difficult"?)
It's not so much that it's wrong or completely unused (it's perfectly understandable), just less common in my experience. Without providing any context, "do you come here often?" sounds to me like the speaker is maybe at a bar hitting on someone (ナンパ). In that context, it is pretty much a cliche by now.

Communication is largely imitating others, both because mirroring is an important social tool (people like you more when you talk like them) and because using familiar patterns and phrases facilitates understanding (people understand you better when you talk like them). In some ways, this makes Japanese easier to learn than English, because there are a lot of set phrases and common ways of expressing certain thoughts. These patterns make it easier to absorb and remember. While you can express yourself in many different ways, I've found that when I get too creative with Japanese people have a harder time understanding me.

English is interesting in that it provides us a framework with which we can express our thoughts, but as time goes on and the more people speak it the more it changes, and people start to popularize certain phrases over others (like the example above). Before the internet, this would lead to localization and localized slang, and ultimately evolving dialects, but now it's like a word soup where I can listen to (and pick up) slang and phrasing from a variety of sources. Slang and speech patterns may originate in one place, but while it used to be contained by geography, there's no telling where they'll spread to now.

Your questions are interesting because they usually contain several grammatically acceptable ways of expressing an idea, but the question really comes down to word choice and placement and how native speakers "feel" about those arrangements; that "sense" really just comes from being immersed in and using the language for a long time.

So you're absolutely right, the key to gaining this superpower is exposure; living in an English-speaking environment will greatly improve your English, at least in that area's particular dialect and vocabulary choices, just like living in Osaka and immersing oneself in Japanese daily will result in improving one's Japanese, probably flavored with kansai-ben. It's not enough to just watch a lot of videos or read a lot, it's very important to practice expressing yourself in the language and get immediate feedback from others (taking into account their own language background); this helps you be a little more deliberate in developing your own "voice" in that language.
 

Buntaro

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Hirashin,

The normal word order is:

(1b) My boss travels to China often.

In other words, the time-phrase “often” normally comes after the indirect object “China” and it normally comes at the end of the sentence.

When you change the order, you emphasize the word that is out of order. In the sentence “My boss often travels to China” you are emphasizing the word “often”.

To answer your question, (1a) and (1b) are both correct and the meanings are different. Same for (2a) and (2b)

We can emphasize the idea of “often” even more. Consider these examples:

(3a) I eat lunch by myself often.
(3b) I often eat lunch by myself.
(3c) Oftentimes I eat lunch by myself.

The three examples are all correct and have different meanings. (3b) has the word “often” out of order so it has a stronger meaning. Example (3c) has a very, very strong meaning.

If you do not want to emphasize the meaning of "often", do not use (1a), (2a), (3b), or (3c). If you use these examples and you do not wish to emphasize "often", it sounds very strange.

One more example:

“On Mondays I go to Osaka but on Tuesdays I go to Kyoto.”

In this example, the time-phrases have been moved to a place in front of their respective subject-verb combinations, so this very much emphasizes the ideas of “on Mondays” and “on Tuesdays”.
 
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johnnyG

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“Often” is a frequency adverb, so I’d suggest googling those to see what you can find about placement.

Secondarily, “often” often comes along with “very~”, which changes how it is placed. Then, when it is in one of those places, the “very” gets dropped, so “often” then tends to sound okay in those places on its own. (Or at least okay enough that native speakers can argue and pontificate about it!! :) )
 

Michael2

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Buntaro, sorry but you have got it the wrong way around. The correct position for adverbs of frequency is before the verb.
 

hirashin

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Thank you all for your help.
 

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