Once is fine, twice is okay, but there is no word like ‘thrice’ in English

Saturday September 9 2017

Copies of Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | FIEL |

Copies of Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | FIEL |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

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To be quite sure, to repeat an action is to do it twice or even a bigger number of times. But the question is ineluctable. What if you do it a third time? No, I know no such word in English as thrice, though it is disgustingly common in East African English, especially from the mouths of politicians, civil servants, priests and even educators. 

A screaming headline claimed as follows on pages two and three of The Standard edition of September 6: “Four to be charged as girls say one student attempted suicide thrice.” No, if she attempted it a third time, for goodness’ sake, do not say she did it “thrice”. Please just say she did it “three times”.

For English is a developing language. And since the 1950s, when I did my high schooling, the word “thrice” has become increasingly illegitimate.


Although I have sometimes seen it even from respected writers in Britain, Canada, Down Under and the United States and heard it from the mouths of well known Anglo-American politicians and other social commentators, the word thrice does not appear a legitimate member of the English vocabulary any more.

Let me repeat it. The English word thrice is long dead. Please do say three times instead.

At any rate, the verb to repeat does not require such adverbial fortifications as twice. Why not? Because the idea of “twice” is already well taken care of by the prefix “re”. 

In other words, the prefix “re” in, for instance,  to reassert and such other verbs is meant to indicate repetition of the concerned verbal action.

That is why it is simply fatuous to repeat anything “again”  or “afresh” or “twice” or  “thrice”, and so on ad infinitum.


For these adverbial words mean nothing else. In other words, the verb to repeat already asserts that the same verbal action is being done or has been done or is to be done  a second or some other number of times bigger than once. But it is with a purpose that I surround with quotation marks the word “thrice” above. 

Please say “three times” if that is what you have in mind because “thrice” belongs to a generation of English users which is no longer with us, a generation which is neither here nor there any more. 

For — though common in East African communication in English, the word thrice does not appear common in England, the mother home of the language that Kenya and other former British colonies have adopted for education, for  governmental use and for a certain intellectual level of  inter-ethnic and inter-racial communication.

The ce ending of once, twice and “thrice” seems to be restricted to adverbial derivatives of small numerical English adjectives.

But the advice, however, is to restrict the ce to the numerical adverbs once and twice. For though the word thrice is  widespread among East Africa’s users of English, the language  does not seem to have legitimised it.