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My question is simple. Is the following sentence correct?

They don't watch TV often.

My English teacher has told me that the only correct option is:

They don't often watch TV.

Is she right?

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4 Answers 4

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I think she is wrong. "They don't often watch TV" certainly isn't the only correct option.

As just one piece of evidence you could consider the Google result counts for these phrases (switched to "I" to get more representative data):

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  • +1, I think exactly as you. But I have to write "I don't often watch TV" on my test, otherwise I will have 0 points for the sentence. This is what I hate particularly about tests:( Nov 23, 2010 at 8:07
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    Be careful with using Google counts as a resource. They sometimes seem to show just a random number. meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/397/… Nov 23, 2010 at 13:30
  • Sure; but with these phrases, looking at the results, I'm fairly sure it's not "random": both are used a lot, and the "wrong" option probably more than the other. And that was just one example, in search of a better authority to quote (other than just my "ear" or intuition). :)
    – Jonik
    Nov 23, 2010 at 15:01
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    (1) Looking at actual search results is meaningful. That said, the comparison between 22,500 and 59,600 is next to meaningless. As I stated on the page which I linked to, the estimate 214,000 by Google can actually mean 359 or 255; their estimate can be off by two or three digits. Compared to this huge error bar, the difference between 22,500 and 59,600 is negligible. Therefore, I do not view those numbers as an evidence suggesting that “I don’t watch TV often” is probably used more often than “I don’t often watch TV.” (more) Nov 24, 2010 at 0:37
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    (cont’d) (2) I know that you are trying to provide an evidence, and I have nothing against your intent. I am against trusting Google counts. They are far less reliable than I had believed and many people still believe. Nov 24, 2010 at 0:38
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Your English teacher could try to make an argument that "they don't often watch TV" would be preferable in writing, or in more formal situations. I am not sure that even this would be true, but it is at least an arguable position.

However, she is just wrong if she says it is the only correct option. Both of your sentences are perfectly acceptable English. They would be understood by any native speaker, and neither one sounds awkward or unusual.

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  • And in fact, the version with 'often' at the end sounds much more natural. The other one isn't awkward per se, but it is a bit stilted.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 23, 2010 at 14:45
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According to this site, an adverb of frequency should be placed before the main verb, in this case watch. So her sentence is correct, in a purist way, but not the only option. It can also be placed at the end, and still be accepted by native english-speaker.

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    This site does not say that these positions are the only acceptable positions; moreover, even if this site did say so, it would require one to ignore actual usage of English.
    – Kosmonaut
    Nov 23, 2010 at 12:42
  • @Kosmonaut all the internet sources I found on the internet seemed to point to what I found out on this site, but to your credit, always inducing that it is more a guideline than a rule.
    – Eldroß
    Nov 23, 2010 at 13:21
  • @Eldros: My main objection is your statement, "she is in fact right". She is not right — option #2 is not the only correct option.
    – Kosmonaut
    Nov 23, 2010 at 13:49
  • @Kosmonaut I've changed my answer to reflect what I really meant. I thought that adding "in a purist way" would show that it is not the only way.
    – Eldroß
    Nov 23, 2010 at 13:51
  • @Eldros: Your statement still implies that there is some realm in which the teacher's statement is true; where would this be the case? Also, when you follow up this sentence by saying "it doesn't hinder others to do as they want", it still implies that people who do it the other way are ignoring a rule. The placement of often is not random — you can't just informally do it anywhere. An English speaker couldn't say, e.g., "they don't watch often TV". So people aren't just doing what they want, they are following grammatical rules that also allow "often" at the end of the sentence.
    – Kosmonaut
    Nov 23, 2010 at 14:30
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Your teacher is wrong. Frequency adverbs can be placed:

  • before the main verb (if the verb is not "to be"). Examples: He never eats vegetables. They will always regret doing this.

  • after the verb (if the verb is "to be"). Example: He is often late for work.

  • some frequency adverbs (eg usually, normally, often, frequently, sometimes): in the beginning OR in the end of the sentence. Examples: He writes often. We visit them frequently. Sometimes I am late for office.

Some incorrect examples:

  • Never we should do that.
  • I should do that never.
  • Always we laugh with his jokes.
  • We laugh with his jokes always.

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