I had a conversation earlier and something struck me as not being right. I will denote myself by M and the caller as C.

phone rings


C:"Hello, M. Is your grandfather there?"

M:"I am not sure to be honest. He usually answers the phone if he is here; that's why I let the phone ring for a while. Sorry."

C:"... or he could be out the back ..."


My question:

Given that I said "usually" does that cover the possibility that he could be here and not answer due to being out the back garden? If I said "always", that would mean that regardless whether he is in the house or out the back garden he would answer the phone.

Sounds like a trivial matter, just I had a look in the dictionary and got

Usually: Under normal conditions.

Has the person on the other end of the phone not interpreted what I have said correctly or am I misusing the word usually?

  • 1
    The real issue is surely what 'here' entails. Aug 31 '15 at 19:42
  • I don't really understand your question. 'usually' and 'always' have distinct meanings. Presumably C suggested he might be out the back because (a) he knows your grandfather and that there is a 'back' or (b) You said you weren't sure. Aug 31 '15 at 19:43
  • On the property, that is, within calling (vocal not telecommunication ) distance.
    – user115777
    Aug 31 '15 at 19:44
  • 1
    I don't think you were misinterpreted. I think the caller was offering an alternate explanation for the reason your grandfather didn't answer. You weren't particularly clear when you implied he wasn't "here" (he could have been in town or he could have been in the garden, you weren't specific), so perhaps the caller thought you might not know your grandfather's habits. Assuming you didn't know if your grandfather was in the garden or not, the caller may have been indirectly asking you to go out back and check. Aug 31 '15 at 22:45

Yes, you can use usually to mean not always.

Always means:

at all times; on all occasions.

So whenever your grandfather's here, he answers the phone.

Usually means:

under normal conditions; generally.

So most of the time when your grandfather's here, he answers the phone. Maybe he's in the garden and didn't hear it, maybe he didn't want to answer, who knows.

Not Always would mean:

Not at all times or sometimes

So when your grandfather's at the home, he doesn't always grab the phone and answer it.

Usually means, your grandfather 5/10-9/10 times grabs the phone unless something's up or he doesn't want to, etc. always means 10/10 he grabs it. Not Always could mean anything really, but likely it means that he grabs it 5/10-9/10.

Some might argue that not is essentially like saying "of course he doesn't always answer the phone, because sometimes we just can't get to the phone before someone hangs up" but it's just another way of implying that someone usually does something.

You're overthinking this thing way too much. You said your grandfather may be here because he usually answer the phone, and C responded appropriately by proposing a potential reason as to why your grandfather didn't answer the phone.

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