Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Our proofreader, a native speaker of American English, just won't let me use this word. Every single time I try to sneak it onto one of our sites, she replaces it with three times. Now, I do realize that thrice is quirky, but how quirky is it really? Is it awfully archaic? Is there a chance that native speakers won't understand it at all?

I know I could just search a corpus or five, but I don't feel like looking at cold stats (or the Wiktionary usage notes, for that matter). Instead, I am asking members of this community for their very personal, highly subjective, extremely biased opinions.

share|improve this question
17  
Bah on your proofreader. Thrice is a lovely word, and you shouldn't be forced to change away from it. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 25 '10 at 5:13
5  
Thrice is beautiful. I use it wherever possible. –  Pekka 웃 Nov 25 '10 at 14:42
18  
I try to use it thrice a day. –  Kosmonaut Nov 25 '10 at 15:21
5  
BTW, is your question "How common is 'thrice' in American English"? Because it's fairly common at least in India (and presumably in the UK); I even remember an old TV programme where someone was complaining about the rising idiosyncrasy of using "three times" instead of "thrice". –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '10 at 20:22
1  
@Kosmonaut: thwack. :p –  Marthaª Dec 1 '10 at 0:12

7 Answers 7

Thrice is somewhat common in America, but is generally considered pretentious.

Sometimes it’s used in a quirky sense by regular folks, but as Flotsam related, thrice is used throughout the older translations of the Bible. So many Americans may not use or understand it outside of that context.

share|improve this answer
1  
Agreed. I use thrice, but I also enjoy using whence and those kinds of words. Definitely pretentious. If your sites are aimed at the general population and therefore you want to keep more to at least a lower common denominator, I'd avoid thrice. –  Dusty Nov 25 '10 at 4:42
4  
I think one should add that though it may be perceived as being pretentious, it is not necessarily used pretentiously. (Note my pretentious use of 'one' :) –  Benjol Nov 25 '10 at 6:24
1  
Do you have a citation for "generally considered pretentious"? I know the questioner didn't ask for it, but I'm just curious… this seems really strange to me; "thrice" is a perfectly commonplace word where I come from. –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '10 at 21:55
5  
I don't know how easy it is to find a citation for "thrice" being pretentious, but as a fellow American I can confirm that it generally gives that impression here. –  Kosmonaut Nov 26 '10 at 6:02
2  
Or by Brits who want to sound British to an American audience, on the grounds that we're then expected to sound a bit pretentious. ;) –  ijw Jan 31 '11 at 13:26

The only instance I can think of when someone used thrice on TV was when Mr. Burns, who is often portrayed using out-of-date language, uses the word thrice in this passage:

All right, Simpson, let’s go over the signals. If I tug the bill of my cap like so, it means the signal is a fake. However, I can take that off by dusting my hands thusly. If I want you to bunt, I will touch my belt buckle not once, not twice, but thrice. If I tug this here. . . .

This is intentionally used by the writers because it sounds funny to the viewers, even though they understand it. I’d say that in Canadian English for sure, and in all the American English I've heard on TV and in person, people generally don’t use the word thrice.

Oxford Dictionaries Online says that thrice is

chiefly formal or literary

And Google n-grams shows that twice is far more popular than two times and "three times" is far more popular than thrice.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
    
You really shouldn't be comparing the frequency of "twice" and "thrice"; that's meaningless as you observed. –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '10 at 21:49
3  
BTW: IMDB search. Shows it's quite often used in movies and on TV (if you ignore the weird duplicates on the first page). E.g., it's used in Pirates of the Caribbean, Kung Fu Panda, Doctor Who, etc. — and these are only the "memorable" quotes. –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '10 at 21:54
    
you may be able to make a twice/thrice comparison if you can make some assumption on the distribution of x2 and x3 numbers, perhaps benfords law? –  jk. Jan 24 '11 at 15:25
1  
@jk: Bendford's law, if indeed it is relevant here, suggests that "twice" should occur 1.409 times more often as "thrice" by numbers alone. So correcting for that influence COCA's numbers would suggest that "twice" is intrinsically ~92 times more common than "thrice", instead of the ~129 times of the raw count. –  Charles May 9 '11 at 20:40
1  
Pirates of the Caribbean is not a very good example, though—they use phrases such as, “It would strain credulity, at that!”, which I would hardly put down as being in common usage. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 21 '13 at 15:27

A New York Times search reveals it is fairly common in the US. I also tried with the Guardian (a UK paper) and with Australian and Indian papers. It is fairly common — in my opinion.

share|improve this answer
2  
Aren't those NYTimes articles all Biblical references? :) –  Hippo Nov 25 '10 at 11:31
1  
@Hippo: Most of the articles from The Guardian, The Age and Times of India aren't Biblical references; the word is used pretty normally. –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '10 at 20:25
    
I think it would be more indicative to look at how often it's used in speech rather than writing. NB the OED notes it as 'formal or literary'. It could be that @RegDwighт's proof reader doesn't want that kind of tone in his writing. –  gpr Dec 28 '12 at 9:07
1  
@gpr You’re probably right. Proofreaders are notorious for their habit of banishing any sign of literacy from the written word. –  tchrist Aug 6 at 16:36

In fundamentalist Christian circles, thrice is relatively common.

I hear or read the phrase thrice holy in reference to God probably three times a year. I go to church about three times a week.

I never hear or read it outside of that context.

share|improve this answer
    
It sounds funny in a way that you seem to consider yourself a fundamentalist - or just the people around you? –  Cerberus Jan 23 '11 at 16:35
1  
There's nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist, as long as the fundamentals you adhere to are right. –  Captain Claptrap Jan 24 '11 at 14:18
    
Some fundamentalists seem to think that the Bible was originally written in English. And that the 'Authorised Version' was authorised by someone given the authority to rule out later revisions. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 26 '12 at 23:41

My gut instinct as a British English speaker is that if you used thrice, it would be assumed that you'd used it for some special rhetorical/poetic effect, or you were being pretentious (or both). It's non-standard and not colloquial.

I'd hazard a guess that the majority of uses of the word are in a larger expression along the lines of "not once, not twice, but thrice", and rarely by itself.

I'll stick my neck out and say that Australians would be more likely to think it pretentious.

share|improve this answer
    
Thrice is “non-standard” Really?? –  tchrist Dec 26 '12 at 23:41
    
Perhaps a poor choice of words, depending on what you take 'non-standard' to mean. By that, I meant it is not commonly used. Commonly understood, of course, but not used. And sure enough, the OED notes it as 'formal or literary' –  gpr Dec 28 '12 at 9:04

I use thrice periodically. I've found that in practice, however, some listeners think I've said "twice", as the two rhyme.

share|improve this answer

Thrice can be used but should be followed by a word. For example, thrice married, thrice divorced, etc. You should not say something like: "I had to go to the store thrice." The proper way is three times.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Aug 6 at 16:37

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.