When she lost her wallet, typically, she panicked.

That looks awkward and incorrect.

A present tense version of the sentence looks correct:

When she loses her wallet, typically she panics. (or "she typically panics")

I am trying to explain to someone why why "typically" is wrong in the past-tense sentence. Is it because "typically" always implies a reoccurring event?

  • 1
    I think you're simply mistaken about valid usages of typically. About 138,000 written instances of "typically they were" clearly indicate that the word can be used in past tense contexts. May 19, 2014 at 22:17
  • 1
    I was about to invoke the general reference mantra, but I think I agree with you about the awkwardness (though not the 'incorrectness') of the first example. I think it's just adverb-placement style; 'Typically, she panicked when she lost her wallet.' sounds better to my ears. May 19, 2014 at 22:20
  • I guess my next question is: does typically always imply a habitual occurrence, or at least an event that occurred or occurs more than once?
    – eso
    May 19, 2014 at 22:22
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth Use of 'typically' involves a multitude of problems. It can be a very confusing concept. When you say 'Typically Sheila panicked when she lost her wallet' I am unclear as to whether you are saying this is typical of Sheila, (and if so whether it is typical of her to panic full stop, or typical of her to panic when she loses her wallet) or whether it is typical of people in general to panic when they lose their wallets. Thus I see three possible interpretations of that sentence alone.
    – WS2
    May 19, 2014 at 22:41
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    @WS2 Macmillan lists the three senses you mention: usually The courses typically last for three days. / When she lost her wallet, she usually panicked. // as you might expect from a particular person When she lost her wallet, true to form, she panicked. // with the typical qualities or features of a particular group of people When she lost her wallet, she panicked, as most people in her situation would have done. May 19, 2014 at 22:56

6 Answers 6


I suggest you say:

  • It was typical of her to panic every time she lost her portfolio.

  • Typically, she would panic when she lost her portfolio.

It is the positioning of the adverb that doesn't work in your sentennce.

Typical, meaning: considered to be an example of some undesirable trait: that is typical of you!.

It may describe a personal characteristic so it may refer to a habit or an attitude that tend to happen on a regular basis,

  • I'm not looking for better ways to phrase the sentence; I'm trying to find out why the sentence is wrong.
    – eso
    May 19, 2014 at 22:18
  • 1
    There is no requirement for repeated losings in OP's first example, merely repeated panic-inducing (for this excitable lady) events. May 19, 2014 at 22:25

For something to be typical, there has to be a normal or common result that is what is expected. If it had never happened before, than it would hardly by typical..it would be surprising or rare.

So yes, I'd say that there must be a frequent response required for the word to be used...if not habitual.

  • Good point. Most of what we do in life is 'typical'. This morning I typically woke up, got out of bed, went downstairs, turned on the radio and made some coffee. All that was just typical, not only of me but of all the people in my road, and millions more beyond it. But the word 'typical' is usually only used for some unusual feature but which happens to be typical, either to the person, or to all persons when faced with a set of circumstances. It is usually used to highlight idiosyncratic behaviour ( which is anything but typical).
    – WS2
    May 20, 2014 at 7:45

My instinct would be to phrase the past-tense as:

whenever she lost her wallet, she [would] typically panic[ed]

That is, I'd preface the sentence with "whenever" instead of "when" (feels more habitual) and switch the order of "she" and "panicked", which I'd consider introducing with "would".

That said, I can't directly address the question of correctness of original or even justify my suggested changes in terms of English grammar. This phrasing just sounds more "habitual" and less clunky to my ear.

  • There is no requirement for repeated losings in OP's first example, merely repeated panic-inducing (for this excitable lady) events. May 19, 2014 at 22:24
  • Oh, I see, "as was typical of her". Got it. Maybe a bit of psychological projection on my part (if I told you how many times I've left my wallet in a cab..). Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Dan Bron
    May 19, 2014 at 22:28

I can't seem to find anything wrong in saying "When she lost her wallet, she typically panicked," considering that it's typical, i.e. characteristic, of her to panic when she loses her wallet. Hence, when she lost it yesterday, she typically panicked.

  • I'm not asking for a revised sentence.
    – eso
    May 19, 2014 at 23:43
  • @eso "typically" is not wrong in your past tense sentence. It just means that when she lost her wallet, she panicked like it's characteristic of her to do when she loses it.
    – Elian
    May 19, 2014 at 23:51

Yes typically does imply a habitual occurrence.

It doesn't mean that the behaviour (panic) happens every time the trigger (losing her wallet) happens but for it to be typical it would have to be that more than half the times the trigger happens the behaviour is expressed.

If it were less than 50% it would be atypical behaviour. (in the case of panic or don't panic)

As an aside to the question, I don't see a problem with using it as you have in the first sentence. Yes, it sounds a bit grim but that might just be because typically sounds a bit grim anywhere in a sentence except at the start.


If you had phrased it this way:

When she lost her wallet she, typically, panicked. 

I would then be certain that the subject is indeed someone who panics regularly, even in other matters which do not involve losing her wallet.


When she lost her wallet, typically, she panicked. 

feels like she loses her wallet frequently, but in this specific case (or on this specific day), the subject panicked. Normally, she might not even panic at all.

I think both phrases are correct. They differ in the trigger which made her panic.

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