How many times or How often

How many times or How often

By Alena Lien, 

26 April 2021



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.


I explain their differences first and then compare them in more detail when they are used as questions.



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Differences



1.   "How many times" refers to the number of occasions; "how often" refers to the frequency. 


"How many times" refers to the number of occasions or times something happens. 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 Tasmania?"

  •       "Just once. I went when I was really young though."




"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 do you go to the cinema?"

  •       "At least once a month."




2.   Responses to questions with "how often" usually includes a timeframe or an 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 the event occur?"

  •       "Once every two years."


  • "How often do you watch Netflix?"

  •       "Rarely. Since I started my new job, I just haven't had the time."





Questions: "How many times" vs "How often"



Past experiences and events - How many times


It is more common to use "how many times" to ask about past experiences and events.


Although we can use a variety of different tenses, the past simple and present perfect is preferred.



Past simple: "How many times did it happen?"

(This is asking the number of time something happened in the past.)

  •       "It happened 3 times and then I gave up."



Present perfect: "How many times have you been to Tasmania?"

(This is asking the number of times you have visited Tasmania in your lifetime.)

  • "Just once. I went when I was really young though."




Past experiences and events - How often


You can also use "how often" to talk about past experiences and events but this would be asking about regular past events.



Past simple: "How often did it happen?"

(This is asking how regularly something used to happen in the past.)

  • "It would happen 3 times a week until the replacement arrived."



Present perfect: "How often have you been to Tasmania?" 

(This is asking how regularly you visited Tasmania up until now.)

  • "Actually just once. I went when I was really young though."




Regular activities - How often & How many times


It is more common to use "how often" to ask about regular activities. You can also use "how many times" as well, but a slightly different structure is required.



Question: "How often" 

-      Response: timeframe


With "how often," a timeframe usually comes with the response.



Past: "How often did you eat chocolate?"

  •       "A small bar every day, usually after dinner."



Present: "How often do you work out?"

  •       "Ideally, about 3-4 times a week."



Future: "How often will you be going to Sydney for work?"

  •       "About every two months but it's yet to be confirmed."




Question: "How many times" + timeframe


To use "how many times" to ask about regular activities, the timeframe should be included in the question instead.



Past: "How many times did you eat chocolate in a day?"

  •       "Just a small bar after dinner."



Present: "How many times do you work out in a week?"

  •       "Ideally, about 3-4 times."



Future: "How many times will you be going to Sydney for work per year?"

  •       "About every two months but it's yet to be confirmed."