Understand French Adverbs

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They may be used to describe actions, attributes, and the manner in which something occurs. We can say that someone falls or we can describe the way in which someone falls – badly, well, softly, etc. We can say that someone has a very bad cold, a fairly good understanding of French grammar, or a spectacularly beautiful voice. We can also say that very early in the morning, travelers left for the train station. French adverbs work in much the same way as English adverbs, appearing in similar positions within phrases to express certain meanings, and being invariable, maintaining the same form regardless of the gender and number of the components of a sentence that they modify.

The adverbial ending -ment in French corresponds to -ly in English. Doucement translates at softly and sincèrement translates as sincerely. When used in sentences, they appear in similar positions in each language. We can say that “Quelqu’un tombe doucement” or that “Quelqu’un parle sincèrement”, their English counterparts being “Someone falls softly” and “Someone speaks sincerely” – in each case, the adverb follows the verb it modifies. Within these adverbs, you will notice adjectives; those ending in -ment include the adjectives douce and sincère, and those ending in -ly include the adjectives soft and sincere. Recognizing these adjectival components is an important aspect of forming adverbs.

Adverbs of Manner        

Adverbs of manner describe the way in which something occurs. A violinist can play quickly and standing up. These words – vite or rapidement, debout – give a more precise image of the violinist as she plays. These adjectives tend to end in -ment, an ending derives from the Latin mens, meaning mind.

Many adverbs of manner can be formed from adjectives. For adverbs ending in -ment, we generally add the -ment ending to a form of an adjective ending in a vowel. This often means that the adjective used to form an adverb is in its feminine form, as is the case for adverbs such as froidement and pleinement. These adverbs contain the words froide and pleine, feminine adjectives whose masculine forms drop the e ending, i.e.,  froid and plein. Some adverbs, such as cruellement and réellement contain feminine adjectives whose e follows a double consonant, e.g., cruelle, réelle, whose masculine forms are cruel and réel. Still other adverbs contain feminine adjectives that involve even more changes from one gender to another, as with joyeusement and faussement. The words joyeuse and fausse are feminine adjectives whose masculine forms are joyeux and faux.

The formation of adverbs from adjectives follows these patterns:

égal égale → également
froid froide → froidement
parfait parfaite → parfaitement
seul seule → seulement
amer amère → amèrement
entier entière → entièrement
léger légère → légèrement
cruel cruelle → cruellement
réel réelle → réellement
tel telle → tellement
coûteux coûteuse → coûteusement
heureux heureuse → heureusement
joyeux joyeuse → joyeusement
sérieux sérieuse → sérieusement
soigneux soigneuse → soigneusement
attentif attentive → attentivement
créatif créative → créativement
vif vive → vivement
doux douce → doucement
faux fausse → faussement
frais fraîche → fraîchement*
franc franche → franchement

* Both the feminine adjective and the adverb can also be spelled without the circumflex, fraiche, fraichement, according to the 1990 spelling reform.

Some masculine forms of adjectives end in vowels. For these, it is not always necessary to change the adjective to the feminine form before adding -ment. Thus, the adverb obstinément is formed from the adjective obstiné and not obstinée.

absolu → absolument
aisé → aisément
éperdu → éperdument
obstiné → obstinément

Remember that we have two alternate forms for gaiment in French, which are gaiement and gaîment. The first is a product of the 1990 spelling reform, while the second and third are more traditional.

Other adjectives have identical feminine and masculine forms. These already have an e ending, so also it suffices to simply add -ment to the adjective, as with the word facilement.

bizarre → bizarrement
calme → calmement
facile → facilement
horrible → horriblement
spécifique → spécifiquement

Remember that the adverb that corresponds to the adjective possible is peut-être and that we would not add the -ment ending to the adjective.        

For -ant and -ent endings, we keep the initial vowel, and double the m of the -ment ending, giving us the following:

constant → constamment
courant → couramment
différent → différemment
évident → évidemment
méchant → méchamment
récent → récemment

But remember that the adjective lent has the corresponding adverb lentement.        

Some adverbs have the ending -ément:

aveugle → aveuglément
commode → commodément
conforme → conformément
importun → importunément
impuni → impunément
récent → récemment
obscur → obscurément
précis → précisément
profond → profondément

Some adjectives are irregular. They have corresponding adjectives, but the forms are very different:

bon → bien
bref → brièvement
gentil → gentiment
mauvais → mal
meilleur → mieux
pire → pis

Other adverbs of manner do not have corresponding adjectives:

ainsi
ensemble
vite
debout
plutôt
presque
volontiers

Some adverbs are not formed from adjectives. These include adverbs that indicate time, place, or quantity. They may also express the degree or extent to which something occurs.

Adverbs of Quantity and Intensity

assez
aussi
beaucoup
combien
encore
environ
moins
peu*
quelque
si
tant
tellement**
tout
très
trop

* This is also used as a noun designating a small quantity or number.
**This is also used as an adverb of manner, as we have seen previously.

Adverbs of Time

après-demain
aujourd’hui
aujourd’hui
auparavant
autrefois
avant-hier
bientôt
demain
enfin
hier
maintenant
soudain
tard
tôt

Remember that soudainement is an alternate way of saying soudain and that the word soudain can also be an adjective, the feminine form being soudaine.

Adverbs of Place:

à droite
à gauche
ailleurs
alentour*
arrière
au-dessous
au-dessus
autour
dedans
dehors
derrière
devant
ici
là-bas
loin
partout
près
vis-à-vis

*This is also used as a noun, often in the plural, to designate a surrounding area.

Some adverbs indicate mood, signaling the attitude of the person speaking. These modal adverbs include:

certainement
hélas
heureusement
malheureusement
par bonheur

As you can see, some of them have corresponding adjectives and some do not.

Placement of Adverbs

Adverbs can be moved around a lot in French, another characteristic they have in common with English adverbs. That being said, there are tendencies to place adjectives in certain positions within phrases. For phrases that use verbs with simple tenses, adverbs are often placed after the verb, e.g., “Elle sourit timidement” and for phrases that use verbs with compound tenses, adverbs often come between the auxiliary and the past participle, e.g., “La violiniste a beaucoup répété avant le spectacle”. It is possible to place an adverb after the past participle in a compound tense, which is often the case with adverbs ending in -ment, e.g., “On nous avait expliqué clairement la situation”. But the words bien and mal need to appear before the past participle. “J’ai bien aimé le spectacle”, “Il a mal parlé de son patron”.

Certain adverbs of time and place also appear after the past participle:

On a vu le spectacle hier.
Ils auront mis le lustre au-dessous de la table.

If the adverb relates to the entire phrase rather than the verb, it appears either at the beginning or at the end of the phrase.

Heureusement que les spectateurs ont tous eu l’occasion de voir cette musicienne formidable.

On n’aurait rien compris de la situation, hélas ! Placement can affect the meaning of a sentence. Compare the following sentences:

Il chante bizarrement.
Bizarrement, il chante.

The first sentence implies that the singer is singing in a bizarre manner while the second gives the impression of it being strange that the person is singing at all.        

We can also see in the above sentences that adverbs, while not being a necessary component of a complete sentence, can paint a more precise picture of what is going on. Without the word bizarrement, we lack a lot of information about the action that occurs and why it is significant. As for necessary components of a complete sentence, nothing besides a verb is technically necessary for a grammatically correct, complete sentence. But that would just leave us with commands – so run right out and use those adverbs. Allez-y !


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