Expressing "how often"


Asking "how often" is one of those things that seems so simple in English but relatively complicated in Chinese. The way to ask in Chinese is, literally, "how long of a time" (do something) "one time." So you'll need the phrases 多长时间 (duō cháng shíjiān) and 一次 (yī cì).

Asking About Frequency

In English you let the person answering the question decide both the length of time and how many times an action is done within that timeframe. So if you ask "how often," you might get an answer like "twice a week." But in Chinese, the frequency is fixed at "once" as part of the question. That actually won't stop people from answering "twice a week" in Chinese, though; it's just how the question is normally phrased in Chinese.


Subj. + 多长时间 + Verb + 一次 (+ Obj.)


  • 多 长 时间 踢球 一 次duō cháng shíjiān tīqiú yī cì?
  • 多 长 时间一 次 球 ?duō cháng shíjiānyī cì qiú?How often do you play soccer?
  • 多 长 时间 剪 头发 一 次duō cháng shíjiān jiǎn tóufa yī cì?
  • 多 长 时间一 次 头发 ?duō cháng shíjiān jiǎn yī cì tóufa?How often do you cut your hair?
  • 多 长 时间 刮 胡子 一 次duō cháng shíjiān guā húzi yī cì?
  • 多 长 时间一 次 胡子 ?duō cháng shíjiān guā yī cì húzi?How often do you shave?

Talking About Frequency in General


Subj. + [Length of Time] + Verb + Times (+ Obj.)


  • 一 周 给 妈妈 打 两 次 电话 。yī zhōu gěi māma dǎ liǎng cì diànhuà.I give mom a call twice a week.
  • 我们 公司 一 周一 次 会 。Wǒmen gōngsī yī zhōu kāi yī cì huì.Our company holds one meeting per week.
  • 两 个 月一 次 头发 。liǎng gè yuè jiǎn yī cì tóufa.I cut my hair every two months.
  • 我 的 手机 两 天一 次 电 。Wǒ de shǒujī liǎng tiān chōng yī cì diàn.I charge my phone every two days.
  • 这 种 药 四 个 小时一 次Zhè zhǒng yào sì gè xiǎoshí chī yī cì.Take this medicine every four hours.
  • 你 应该 半 年一 次 体检 。Nǐ yīnggāi bàn nián zuò yī cì tǐjiǎn.You should have a physical examination every half year.

When NOT to Use This Pattern

The thing about using the pattern above is that it's expected that the activity is done regularly, as part of a habit. If it's not an activity that's regularly engaged in, it's weird to use the pattern. Consider the following examples:

  • 多 长 时间一 个 手机 ?duō cháng shíjiān huàn yī gè shǒujī?How often do you buy a new cell phone?
  • 多 长 时间一 次 班 ?duō cháng shíjiān jiā yī cì bān?How often do you work overtime?
  • 多 长 时间一 次 牛油果 ?duō cháng shíjiān chī yī cì niúyóuguǒ?How often do you eat avocado?

In these cases, the speaker is trying to get any idea of how often the other person does something, regardless of how regular or habitual it is. In this case, just use 经常 (or similar) to ask about it.

  • 经常 换 手机 吗 ?jīngcháng huàn shǒujī ma?Do you often buy a new cell phone?
  • 经常 加班 吗 ?jīngcháng jiābān ma?Do you often work late?
  • 很 少 吃 牛油果 吧 ?hěnshǎo chī niúyóuguǒ ba?You rarely eat avocado, right?

See also

Sources and further reading