learn it! title
How long/how often/how many times...?

Jian Shou from China asks:

I always make the same mistake when I talk with my English friend.

How many times? and How long? always confuses me.

Please give me an answer.


Roger replies:
How long? is used to ask questions about amounts or periods of time. Take a look at the following:
  • 'How long have you been waiting?' 'Only for a minute or two.'

  • 'How long have they been married?' 'Oh, for a very long time. More than 25 years.'

  • 'How long will the concert last?' 'It should be over by ten o?clock, I think.'

  • 'How long was your stay in Malaysia?' 'The project lasted for two years, but I was there for two and a half years.'

  • 'How long have you been living in this house?' 'For 12 years now, ever since my mother died.'

  • 'How much longer can you stay?' 'Not much longer. For another ten minutes perhaps. I have to be home before midnight.
Note that this construction is often used with the prepositions for or since in the reply.
How long...? can also be used to ask about the measured length of something. Study the following:
  • 'How long was the wedding dress?' 'It was very short, knee-length really.'

  • 'I see you are growing your hair. How long do you want it to be?' 'Shoulder-length at least.'
If you use the construction How many times?, you are enquiring about the specific number of occasions something has happened. Study the following:
  • 'How many times have you read that book?' 'At least ten times. I really like it.'

  • 'How many times did you visit them last summer?' 'Almost every weekend.'

  • 'How many times did the phone ring last night?' 'We must have had about twenty calls.'

  • 'How many times have I told you not to play football in the garden?'

Note that the construction How often? is more versatile and is used more frequently than How many times?

When you use this construction, you are asking about how frequently something happens. Unlike How many times? which usually refers to past occasions, How often? is used to refer to past, present and future situations. Take a look at the following examples:

  • 'How often do you plan to play tennis this summer?' 'As often as possible. Every day, if I can.'

  • 'How often will you visit your mother in hospital?' 'I shall try to visit at least once a week.'

  • 'How often did you go to the cinema when you were young?' 'Every weekend, without fail. There was no television then.'

  • 'How often do you go to the big supermarket to do your shopping?' 'Not very often. Perhaps once a month.'

  • 'When you lived in London, how often did you go to the theatre?' 'We used to go three or four times a year ?something like that.