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.

  • What meanings have you found that contrast with each other?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 11:22

8 Answers 8


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.

  • 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
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 2:24
  • "You wouldn't find it (常常) in legal documents and such." This is not the point. The reason you won't find 常常 in legal docs is NOT because the word is informal, but because the word is not precise.
    – RnMss
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 9:28

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 -----



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 :)

----- Edit -----

After 10 years, here's an update

通常 normally reflects common sense
经常 normally reflects frequency.

  • Can you give a bit more detail here? The examples you give for 经常and 通常 are very similar.
    – tbaums
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 14:31
  • you can translate 通常 to 'in general' or 'generally', while for 经常 it's 'always'
    – Fivesheep
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 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
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 3:16
  • I really cannot see any difference in the frequency of an event by using these two words.
    – Elaine
    Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 16:44
  • This "通常" example don't fit your translation "frequently”, it actually means mostly, or usually here.
    – RnMss
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 8:18

通常 implies a habit, an action always true.我通常九点钟上床。(always )

常常,经常refer to an action frequently happens. (often )


通常 means "usually", or "for most of the times". It is used to describe things that would probably happen when certain circumstances are met. But the thing it describe doesn't necessarily happen in a high frequency.

常常 and 经常 could both describe things that

  1. has a high possibility to happen when certain circumstances are met. The possibility may be higher than expected or average, but isn't necessarily so high as to be called "for most of the time".

  2. happens in a high frequency.

But the choice is sometimes a matter of grammar. (I'll explain this later in the examples.)

Note Since "通常" is for "most of the time", it is often used with "但是(but)" to show that there are exceptions.


我 [经常, 常常] 锻炼身体。

“通常”这个词 [常常, 经常] 和“但是”一起使用。

我锻炼身体之后,[通常] 会去洗个澡。

洗澡水 [经常, 常常] 过热。 (过热 means overheating, so it is one word.)

洗澡水 [常常] 太热,让我很不舒服。 (太热 are two words, 太 (too) 热(hot) )

洗澡水 [常常] 不是太冷,就是太热。 (不是太冷,就是太热 is a long phrase)

The pronunciation of 经常 (jīngcháng) has a stronger stress than 常常 (chángcháng).

So when people use 常常, the stress is more often in the phrase that follows it, while when using 经常, the stress is more often put on the syllable “经” rather than on the others.

So 经常 are usually followed by a word (or a idiom that counts as a verb). While 常常 could be followed by longer ones like a phrase or a clause, because the stress is not yet used.

But in some informal contexts, people don't care the difference very much.


常常 means doing something frequently and habitually. It somehow conveys the meaning of "used to" in English.

通常 can be translated as "in most cases", "often", or "usually".

经常 means "have (hand) happened for many times".


I think "通常“ is more like the English word "usually". It is an adverb, and could be used in front of the whole sentence, or before the predicate. Like: 通常,我骑自行车上班。/我通常骑自行车上班。In the later sentence, 通常can be replaced with "经常“or "常常“,but can't be replaced in the first sentence.

"通常” usually indicate that something or some action happens or happened in the same way, doesn't focus a lot on the frequency. eg, 她通常会在学校门口等我。

经常and常常 are more like the English words "often", are inclined to express the frequency, indicate that something or some action happens or happened a lot in some period. In many situations, 经常 and 常常 can interchange as adverbs, but they can't be interchanged with "通常“. eg. 最近她常常/经常去看电影。她工作积极,常常/经常受到表扬。

Except being an adverb, "经常“also could be an adjective , but"常常“can't act as an adj. eg. 对于小王来讲,迟到是经常的事。

  • 通常can be put in front of a sentence, but 经常,常常can't be Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 12:40

通常=typical, usually
经常 and 常常=often/frequently
I dont know the difference between 经常 and 常常, in most cases they can be replaced by each other.


通常 = usually

经常 = frequently

常常 = very frequently

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.