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What is the difference between 通常,经常,and 常常?

I hear them a lot in conversational Chinese, but I can't pick out the difference in meaning. The dictionaries I've checked don't seem to agree on their chosen English translations.

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What meanings have you found that contrast with each other? –  Alenanno Jan 23 '12 at 11:22
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3 Answers 3

Generally, 经常 is used ahead of action, like 我经常加班

通常 is used to describe things happened frequently. like 事情通常是这样的

常常 can be used for both of the cases.

----- Edit -----

他通常说的都是对的.

我通常都是晚上开始工作.

both are okay to me too, you can see the differences.

常常 can always take place of 经常 (anyway, I cannot recall any examples now that cannot replace it).

通常来说, 常常 can also take place of 通常, but we just don't say 常常来说 :)

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Can you give a bit more detail here? The examples you give for 经常and 通常 are very similar. –  tbaums Jan 23 '12 at 14:31
    
you can translate 通常 to 'in general' or 'generally', while for 经常 it's 'always' –  Fivesheep Jan 24 '12 at 2:37
    
So, going by your example sentences, it seems that 通常 is used for statements that happen frequently, both past, present, and future. But, is it ok to use 经常 in your sample sentence, like "事情经常是这样的“. If it is ok, do these two statements imply any difference in the frequency of an event? –  Kurtz Jan 24 '12 at 3:16
    
I really cannot see any difference in the frequency of an event by using these two words. –  Milla Jan 29 '12 at 16:44
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常常 simply means "often", and is not very formal. You wouldn't find it in legal documents and such.

经常 means "frequently" or "regularly". It's not just conveying the frequency of something, but also its regularity.

通常 also conveys frequency, but it's a bit more like "usually". Under such-and-such a condition, then something often or usually happens.

If I say 我常常在麦当劳吃饭, it just means that I "often" eat at McDonalds. But if it's 我通常在麦当劳吃饭, then when I have a meal, the "normal" or expected case is that I will be eating at McDonalds.

The difference is not really about the degree of frequency/infrequency.

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This answer is explained better than the one by @Milla. However, without references or another authority to back it up, it sits in the #2 ranking. If you could provide authoritative backing then I think this answer would surpass Milla's, especially since there doesn't appear to be a clear answer for this yet. –  Ming Jun 13 at 2:24
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通常 = usually

经常 = frequently

常常 = very frequently

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