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Is there any difference between the two terms 'often' and 'oftentimes'? They seem to be used interchangeably but is one more appropriate in certain situations than others? Is 'oftentimes' an older term that is commonly replaced by 'often' nowadays?

Consider this sentence:

  • Physiological tolerances can be measured indirectly by quantifying species’ occurrences along environmental axes (citation), which is often the only way such information can be recorded for large numbers of species.

  • Physiological tolerances can be measured indirectly by quantifying species’ occurrences along environmental axes (citation), which is oftentimes the only way such information can be recorded for large numbers of species.

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No one uses oftentimes. It's recognizable, but sounds old-fashioned. –  Mitch Apr 28 '12 at 2:02
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What Mitch said. You definitely wouldn't use it in a paragraph starting with such precise technical terminology as the example here. It's effectively archaic, but sufficiently well-known that oftentimes people just throw it in somewhat light-heartedly. –  FumbleFingers Apr 28 '12 at 2:06

3 Answers 3

Often and oftentimes may be used with little or no distinction to mean again and again in more or less close succession, but oftentimes is occasionally preferred for intonational reasons ("He had a sense of humor which was sometimes loud, oftentimes lewd, but never deliberately unkind [...].")(1)

In the following NGRAM often is compared to oftentimes(2).

enter image description here

It would seem that the use of oftentimes is very rare in written English language.

(1) Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms
(2) NGRAM is for written language only, of course.

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That NGRAM plot is a nice way to visualize the difference in term usage! +1 –  Thraupidae Apr 27 '12 at 23:29
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If you give an image of the ngram, you'll also want to give a link to ngram with the parameters you used, both for convenience of those who want to look at the details, but also so we know what parameters you used. I tried to repeat yours and though the general trend was the same, the graphs do not match exactly so I wonder what could be different between the two. –  Mitch Apr 28 '12 at 1:59
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I think it's putting it a bit strongly to say that oftentimes is "very rare" in written usage (though it is pretty uncommon in spoken usage). It's just that you're graphing it against often, which is a "very common" word. As it happens, oftentimes I use the word myself, albeit almost invariably in a somewhat tongue in cheek way. But quite often it turns out these two words aren't totally interchangeable (as in this sentence! :) –  FumbleFingers Apr 28 '12 at 2:02
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@Carlo_R., I think Mitch means a link like so: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  zpletan Apr 28 '12 at 14:16
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@tchrist: yes, I did just say that. I used to say 'lemmmata' and 'formulae' (pronounced correctly) and 'vertices' and 'cherubim'. My fellow geeks made fun of me. Now I only say 'formulas'. I've come to enjoy 'America's got talent', too. –  Mitch Apr 28 '12 at 15:42

I can't find a difference in any of my online dictionaries. My best guess:

  • Often is an adverb meaning frequently.
  • Oftentimes is an adverb phrase-turned-word, and is similar to the adverb phrase many times. (The Oxford Dictionaries Online note that oftentimes is archaic or North American.)

In your example, then, either word is fine—you could substitute frequently or many times and see that the grammaticality of the sentence is preserved.

Usually (always?), often can replace oftentimes; however, the reverse is not true—for instance, you wouldn't say, "I don't do that oftentimes."

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See also grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/09/oftentimes.html –  zpletan Apr 27 '12 at 22:53
    
Thanks for the info! –  Thraupidae Apr 27 '12 at 23:30

They mean the same thing. However, "oftentimes" is colloquial and informal, and should not be used in scholarly or academic work.

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protected by RegDwigнt Dec 6 '13 at 13:51

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