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I know how to ask "how many times per [time period]", or "at which frequency", but what is the non-scientific way to ask "how often"?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

You can use the expression tous les combien:

Tous les combien, interroge sur la fréquence : L'autobus passe tous les combien ?

Note there is no s at the end of combien since the latter is an invariable noun (masculine):

Le combien (nom masculin invariable), indique le quantième du mois, le rang : Le combien sommes-nous ? Le combien est-il au classement ?

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While "tous les combien" should be understood in Canada I feel it's most probably only used in some countries. – Alexandre P. Levasseur Jul 24 '14 at 15:50
@AlexandreP.Levasseur I heard it many times in France (Paris): I am pretty sure that most people (like 99% or more) there understand the expression. No idea about other French-speaking countries. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 24 '14 at 15:53
When I said "in some countries" I specifically meant France but thought maybe some other french-speaking countries use it too. I've noticed that the french spoken in some african countries is close to how it is used in France, especially in regions where arab is also used. – Alexandre P. Levasseur Jul 24 '14 at 15:56
I myself never heard that expression. Though it is rather common for me to say or hear L'autobus passe à tous les combien de temps? (more complete version of the expression) – Sifu Jul 24 '14 at 16:57
@Sifu Interesting! à tous les combien de temps? would sound a bit weird in Paris. I guess it has regional variations. – Franck Dernoncourt Jul 24 '14 at 16:59

There is no good direct translation I can think of, one would rather say “are you doing it often” and depending on the answer ask further “at which frequency”.

Allez-vous souvent à la piscine? (Are you often going to the swimming pool?)
Oui, régulièrement (Yes regularly)
Ha oui? À quelle frequence? (Really? How often?)
Deux fois par semaine (Twice a week)

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"À quelle fréquence" would be my choice here. I do not think there is any real other choice. – Alexandre P. Levasseur Jul 24 '14 at 15:51

Another alternative might be "Tu fais X combien de fois par semaine/mois/an...?" "How often do you go swimming". You must choose somewhere between weeks and years (for example)… which might lead to confusion:

Q: Tu vas à la piscine combien de fois par semaine?
A: Ça va pas, non? J'ai horreur de ça — j'y vais une fois par an maximum.

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