Take the Internet. We all use it, even those living under a rock—given there’s wi-fi. But just how often do you use it? 12 hours a day (addict!), 6 hours a day (I know you’re out there), 2 hours (hopefully, that doesn’t scream deprivation)? Well, the English language has word that describe how often something happens, words that also show up on the SAT a lot, dare I say sporadically.
If you just aren’t much of an Internet person and prefer face-to-face contact, you could describe yourself as using the Internet sporadically, or at irregular intervals. It doesn’t have to be the web; it can be just about anything. Study the SAT for one hour on Saturday, 20 minutes on Wednesday, and 5 minutes on Friday (before getting distracted by pop-up windows on your computer). That’s pretty sporadic.
When it rains in Northern California, it tends to rain the entire day. In other parts of the country I’ve been to, the rain tends to occur off and on, at regular intervals. One hour of rain, one hour of sun, 45 minutes of rain, 40 minutes of sun. The word to describe something that happens at regular intervals is intermittent. If you like to study for an hour and then take a 30 break, you are an intermittent studier (hopefully, you don’t study 3o minutes and take an hour break!).
Are you totally unpredictable as to when you’ll do something? Well, you probably do that thing erratically. This word is usually used for extreme cases. Erratic breathing, for one, is when a person has been severely injured and is breathing at irregular intervals. Erratic can also describe bizarre behavior. If you have a friend who behaves erratically whenever he drinks coffee, he might call you at odd hours and propose to take a road trip to the other side of coffee (fueled on nothing but Red Bulls, no less).
This word is the least common on the list. If you do something but lack a plan while doing it, you are approaching it desultorily. If you kick a ball around a field, you are practicing soccer desultorily. If you pick up a different book every five minutes while walking through Barnes & Nobles, you are a desultory reader.