Always, Never, Usually, Often, Most, and More
Learn how to properly use these dangerous words.
Page 2 of 3
When Should You Use Usually and Often?
Never write "never." Always avoid "always."
So what about fudgy words such as usually and often? They aren't horrible. When you're tempted to write always, usually can be a safer choice: In English, we usually italicize foreign words.
The problem is that sometimes people use these words without any real knowledge of whether something happens often or usually.
I was tempted to write "people often use these words without any real knowledge," but really? Is it often? I know I see it done, but when I think about it carefully, I'm not willing to commit to often. Sometimes is more accurate.
What Is the Difference Between Many and Most?
People have asked about the difference between most and many. OK, it was only one person, so it wasn't really people; it should have been someone.
Both many and most indicate a large, indefinite amount. Technically, most is more than many. Most is a superlative that means "in the greatest degree" or "in the majority of instances," so you could argue that it's only correct to use most when you're talking about more than half of something. For example, most of the time would have to be at least fifty percent of the time, although in practice, I suspect most people [get it?] don't strictly adhere to that definition.
When Should You Use Most and Many?
My advice to careful writers is to avoid using most and many unless you have evidence that what you're talking about is a lot—a lot of people or more than half the time, for example. It shouldn't just be your opinion. The thought "I believe snails are adorable and make great mascots" floating through your head shouldn't lead you to write "Many people believe snails are adorable and make great mascots."
Going back to my opening paragraph, how did I know that many of you know that I used to be a science writer? I didn't. Although I've mentioned it in a bunch of interviews, I have no idea how many of you already knew that I was a science writer. So I shouldn't have started out with as many of you know. It's pure speculation (and unnecessarily wordy).
As an aside, you can learn more about more and most in episode #124 in which we talk about using more to compare two things (this painting is more spectacular than the last) and most when something is the best of more than two things (this painting is the most spectacular painting we've seen all day).