Habitual actions

Hello, our teachers,

How can I explain the difference between using "will" & "simple present" to talk about habitual actions and behaviour?

In other words, what's the difference between (a) & (b)?

a) He usually goes to work by bicycle.
b) He'll usually go to work by bicycle.


Thanks in advance.

Original Post
Hussein Hassan posted:

 

a) He usually goes to work by bicycle.
b) He'll usually go to work by bicycle.

Hello, Hussein,

While (a) expresses a present habit, (b) adds the idea of persistent or typical behavior, despite some kind of opposition (long distance to work, adverse weather conditions, some health problem of his, a bicycle that is not good enough, etc.). (b) would thus be synonymous with:

c) (In spite of XXX) He persists in the habit of going to work by bicycle.

Sorry I don't have much more to say, but it's the only difference I seem to find right now.

Hussein Hassan posted:
a) He usually goes to work by bicycle.

b) He'll usually go to work by bicycle.

Hello, Hussein and Gustavo,

I like your response, Gustavo. This is meant as a supplementary comment. I thought of a context in which I might actually use (b). It is not a context in which (a) could replace it.

Let's suppose, Hussein, that I know "him" really well. I know his habits. I know what he usually does and what he sometimes does instead. Let's also suppose that he is coming to stay with you awhile. I might say:

b) He'll usually go to work by bicycle. But occasionally he will take his car.

In that context, I'm letting you know what to expect. I am forecasting his future habits for you, on the basis of what I know about him. I could phrase things using the present tense, but the meaning would change. I wouldn't be forecasting.

David, Moderator posted:

You're very welcome, Hussein.

Hope that it's not a hint
of "Not expressing my gratitude". You know how much we do appreciate your role here, David. Many thanks wouldn't be enough to thank you for the effort you always exert to help us. Thanks a million. 

Hussein Hassan posted:

You know how much we do appreciate your role here, David. Many thanks wouldn't be enough to thank you for the effort you always exert to help us. 

I realize, Hussein, that my post above was not very momentous. I was aware when I made the post that it probably would not come as a great surprise to you that the sentence with "will usually" could be used to refer to a future habit. But I thought you might be interested to know, and appreciate knowing, that that is the context I find most natural for that sentence as a native speaker.

The fact is, Hussein, I find the sentence "He'll usually go to work by bicycle" to be very awkward if it is to mean that he presently has that habit. Having thought some more about it, I have realized that it is not because of "will" but because of the adverb "usually." If that sentence (with "will") is to refer to a present habit, it would be far better, in my view, to use "often" instead of "usually."

(b1) He will often go to work by bicycle.
Compare:
(b2) He will often sleep until noon on Saturdays.
(b3) He will often show up late to work.

Instead of "often" I could have used "sometimes" or other adverbs or adverbials. The reason I chose "often" is that it is rather close to "usually." I do, however, think that there is a difference in meaning between the two. Looking at (b3), we see that "often" indicates "frequently" -- and that doesn't imply "usually." It could be that, on most days, he gets to work on time; but he is prone to being late.

Thus, when "will [verb phrase]" is to refer to a present habit, the adverb that one inserts should not, in my view, be the same type of adverb that one would use with regular present habits. "Will often [verb phrase]" can refer to what I shall call predictable aberrations of behavior, as in "He usually gets up at the crack of dawn, but he will often sleep in on Saturdays." There is a certain willfulness about "will" here.

Having said all that, I did think of one syntactic context in which I would not find it very awkward for "He will usually [verb phrase]" to refer to a  present habit, and that is a context in which a time-clause adverbial modifies the entire statement. Notice that this changes the meaning of "usually" from "the usual course of things" to "usual under this circumstance." For example:

(c) He will usually go to work by bicycle when his wife needs the family car for the day.

Now you know what I had cooking behind my first post in this thread. Often what I say overtly in a thread is but the tip of the iceberg of what I'd like to say but for whatever reason am not ready to commit to publicly as moderator.

David, Moderator posted:

[...] I find the sentence "He'll usually go to work by bicycle" to be very awkward if it is to mean that he presently has that habit. Having thought some more about it, I have realized that it is not because of "will" but because of the adverb "usually." If that sentence (with "will") is to refer to a present habit, it would be far better, in my view, to use "often" instead of "usually."

I fully agree, David. You are definitely right that "often" sounds much better to express a persistent present habit.

Add Reply

Likes (0)
×
×
×
×