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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.

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  • 19
    Bah on your proofreader. Thrice is a lovely word, and you shouldn't be forced to change away from it. Nov 25, 2010 at 5:13
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    Thrice is beautiful. I use it wherever possible.
    – Pekka
    Nov 25, 2010 at 14:42
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    I try to use it thrice a day.
    – Kosmonaut
    Nov 25, 2010 at 15:21
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    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". Nov 25, 2010 at 20:22
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    @Kosmonaut: thwack. :p
    – Marthaª
    Dec 1, 2010 at 0:12

8 Answers 8

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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.

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    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, 2010 at 4:42
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    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, 2010 at 6:24
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    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. Nov 25, 2010 at 21:55
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    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, 2010 at 6:02
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    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, 2011 at 13:26
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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.

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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

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  • You really shouldn't be comparing the frequency of "twice" and "thrice"; that's meaningless as you observed. Nov 25, 2010 at 21:49
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    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. Nov 25, 2010 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, 2011 at 15:25
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    @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, 2011 at 20:40
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    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. Aug 21, 2013 at 15:27
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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.

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    Aren't those NYTimes articles all Biblical references? :)
    – Hippo
    Nov 25, 2010 at 11:31
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    @Hippo: Most of the articles from The Guardian, The Age and Times of India aren't Biblical references; the word is used pretty normally. Nov 25, 2010 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, 2012 at 9:07
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    @gpr You’re probably right. Proofreaders are notorious for their habit of banishing any sign of literacy from the written word.
    – tchrist
    Aug 6, 2014 at 16:36
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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.

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  • It sounds funny in a way that you seem to consider yourself a fundamentalist - or just the people around you? Jan 23, 2011 at 16:35
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    There's nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist, as long as the fundamentals you adhere to are right. Jan 24, 2011 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. Dec 26, 2012 at 23:41
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I use thrice periodically. I've found that in practice, however, some listeners think I've said "twice", as the two rhyme.

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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.

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    Thrice is “non-standard” Really??
    – tchrist
    Dec 26, 2012 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, 2012 at 9:04
  • I'd agree that it's not colloquial any more. It's not quite as antiquated as thruppence, but it's getting on that way. And yes, I was an adult before we stopped using 3d coins and I still use fewer.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 27, 2017 at 15:41
  • I dunno - thruppence is doomed because we don't have those coins anymore, and you can't buy much of use for 3p, whereas you'll always be able do things three times and be a bit fancy about how you say it ;)
    – gpr
    Nov 3, 2017 at 6:27
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Thrice was not too obscure to be used in the hit musical comedy and the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
enter image description here

You can find the memorable quote featuring thrice here

Philia: That's the brute who raped my country, Thrace!

Pseudolus: He raped Thrace?

Philia: And then he came and did it again! And then again!

Pseudolus: He raped Thrace thrice?

Pseudolus was played by Zero Mostel (right, in picture; Phil Silvers at left). Picture -- from homevideos.com The OP asked for our

very personal, highly subjective, extremely biased opinions

and mine is that if I say thrice and the person I am talking to does not immediately think of this quote, then the heck with him.

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