German adverbs of frequency explained

by Jakob Straub
February 10, 2021
woman searching how to form German adverbs of frequency

Adverbs of frequency specify how often something is taking place, such as never, rarely, sometimes, always. Like English, German has indefinite and definite adverbs of frequency. We’ll explain the difference and also show you how to form German adverbs of frequency from other temporal references.

What are adverbs?

A quick grammar refresher: adverbs modify a verb or verb phrase. The term derives from Larin “ad” and “verbum”, denoting something added to the verb. Adverbs and adverbial phrases serve the function to express time, degree, place, manner or other details, thus answering questions like how, when, or where.

Is it an adjective or an adverb? We have the ultimate guide!

Types of adverbs

The most common types of adverbs are:

  • Temporal adverbs specify when something is happening
  • Adverbs of frequency express how often
  • Locative adverbs indicate place
  • Interrogative adverbs are used to form questions and are typically W-words (when, where, why, whence, whither etc.)
  • Causal adverbs specify a reason
  • Adverbs of manner express how exactly
  • Pronoun adverbs combine a preposition and a pronoun to refer to things

Adverbs of frequency

Adverbs of frequency answer the question how often and can range from never to always. They can specify a definite time such as daily, or an indefinite time or occurrence, such as rarely.

Do you need to brush up on adverbs of frequency in English? We’ll explain it to you!

How do German adverbs of frequency work?

We’ll sort the German adverbs of frequency for you from never to always, go over indefinite and definite ones and show you how to form adverbs from temporal references as well as how to make comparative specifications regarding frequency.

German adverbs of frequency in descending order

The following shows you the range from always to never in German adverbs of frequency:

  • immer – always
  • fast immer – almost always
  • meistens – mostly, most of the time
  • häufig – frequently
  • oft – often, oftentimes
  • ab und zu – from time to time, now and then, once in a while
  • manchmal – sometimes
  • selten – rarely
  • kaum – scarcely
  • fast nie – hardly ever, almost never
  • nie – never

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Indefinite and definite adverbs of frequency in German

The above is a list of absolute adverbs of frequency. They can tell you the degree of how often something happens, but they won’t specify when exactly. These are therefore indefinite adverbs of frequency. Definite adverbs make a precise statement about how often something occurs or repeats, such as daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

  • täglich – daily
  • wöchentlich – weekly
  • monatlich – monthly
  • jährlich – yearly
  • morgens – in the morning
  • mittags – at noon, around noon
  • nachmittags – in the afternoon
  • abends – in the evening
  • nachts – at night, during the night, nightly

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Forming adverbs of frequency in German

In German, you can form an adverb from another temporal expression, such as a noun specifying a time or making reference to time. In the above list, you’ll see examples of this: the suffix “s” or “lich” is added to the noun to form the adverb:

  • “Der Tag” (the day) + “lich” = “täglich” (daily)
  • “Der Abend” (the evening) + “s” = abends (in the evening)

You can use this for all the days of the week:

  • montags – on Mondays
  • dienstags – on Tuesdays
  • mittwochs – on Wednesdays
  • donnerstags – on Thursdays
  • freitags – on Fridays
  • samstags – on Saturdays
  • sonntags – on Sundays

Examples of other German adverbs of frequency and their origins:

  • ganztags – full-time (“der ganze Tag” = the whole day)
  • halbtags – half day (“der Halbtag” = the half day)
  • feiertags – on holidays, every holiday (“der Feiertag” = the holiday)
  • zweiwöchentlich – biweekly (“zwei Wochen” = two weeks)
  • Halbjährlich – half-yearly, biannually, semiannually (“das Halbjahr” = the half year)

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Comparative and superlative adverbs of frequency in German

German adverbs typically belong to the group of words which are not inflected, meaning they do not change to vary their grammatical function. However, a few adverbs of frequency can be compared and have a comparative and superlative:

  • häufig, häufiger, am häufigsten – often, more often, most often
  • oft, öfter, am häufigsten – often, more often, most often
  • selten, seltener, am seltensten – seldom, less often, least often

Note that the superlative “am öftesten” for “oft” is grammatically correct but does sound wrong and is therefore used less often.

Using adverbs of frequency in German sentences

As with all kinds of adverbs, when you form a German sentence with an adverb of frequency, you can put it at the beginning or the end of the sentence, or in the middle. However, you’ll have to follow a few rules.

Adverb at the beginning

Placing an adverb of frequency at the beginning of a German sentence can be a strong signal that you want to emphasise the frequency, for example in response to a question. In this case, the word order of the sentence changes and the subject will move behind the verb, while the verb stays in second position:

  • “Ich dusche täglich.” (I shower daily.) becomes “Täglich dusche ich” (Daily I shower).
  • “Er ruft nie an.” (He never calls.) becomes “Nie ruft er an.” (Never does he call).
  • “Wir gehen oft aus.” (We go out often) becomes “Oft gehen wir aus.” (Often do we go out).

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Adverb in the middle

If you place the adverb in the middle of the sentence, it typically precedes the accusative object, but sucedes the dative object – which is not the case in English:

  • “Er hat ihr oft ein Geschenk gegeben.” (He often gave her a present)
  • “Sie hat ihn nie geliebt.” (She never loved him)
  • “Wir haben uns kaum gesehen.” (We have hardly seen each other)

However, you cannot place the adverb of frequency or any adverb before a pronoun in German. This alters the above rule: are both dative and accusative object pronouns, you have to place the adverb after:

  • “Sie nimmt es ihm manchmal weg.” (She sometimes takes it from him.)

If there is no object in a sentence, you place the adverb after the finite verb, or after the reflexive pronoun in the case of reflexive verbs: 

No object: “Es hat selten geregnet.” (It scarcely rained.)

Reflexive verb: “Sie trifft sich häufig mit ihren Freunden.” (She meets a lot with her friends.)

If you’re specifying further information with a phrase beginning with a preposition, you place the adverb of frequency before the preposition. Note that in the case of several phrases and prepositions, where exactly you place the adverb put emphasis on the following phrase:

  • “Sie treffen sich oft mit ihren Freunden zum Tennis, aber nur manchmal mit der Familie.” (They meet often with their friends for tennis, but only sometimes with their family – emphasis on “with their friends”).
  • “Sie treffen sich mit ihren Freunden immer im Club, aber nie in der Bar.” (They meet their friends always at the club, but never at the bar).

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Adverb at the end

If there is no split verb construction in a sentence, you can place the adverb of frequency at the very end. In the case of one or more objects, this adds emphasis on the interval or frequency:

  • No split verb, no object: “Ich laufe täglich.” (I run daily).
  • Dative and accusative object: “Er gibt ihnen die Rechnung wöchentlich.” (He gives them the invoice weekly – emphasis on weekly, as opposed to daily or monthly, for example).

Do you want to learn more about word order in German? We’ll tell you how to form basic German sentences!

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