Do you solemnly swear that you’ll be completely present?
You’d wanted to gleefully come on this little adventure with me, right?
You know, to dramatically yet gracefully make your French very descriptive and colorful.
By safely venturing down this track together, we’ll add a little je ne sais quoi to your language.
Where are we headed? To the land of adverbs, of course.
These gems are what allow you to cruise though French Netflix films quickly and to learn how to write French emails dutifully.
Adverbs are what’ll get you to practice your casual French coolly and to answer the phone professionally.
Stay on this track, and in a matter of minutes you’ll know where to place adverbs in French sentences, how to form adverbs from adjectives, plus 10 very common French adverbs you can start to use immediately.
The No-nonsense Guide to French Adverbs
If the word “adverb” scares you even in English, let’s do a quick review. Simply put, adverbs describe verbs (action words) or adjectives (descriptive words). For example, take the sentence “Jack ran quietly through the very big library.”
The word “quietly” is an adverb because it describes how the verb “ran” was executed. (How did he run? Quietly.) Additionally, the word “very” is also an adverb because it describes the adjective “big.” (How big? Very big.)
However, French handles adverbs a little differently than English. Don’t stress, though, I’ve got all the tips to help you handle them smoothly.
See what I did there? Of course, you did, you very perceptive learner, you.
In addition to these tips, you can also see French adverbs in action by checking out FluentU.
Where to Place French Adverbs That Modify Verbs
In English, adverb placement can be pretty complicated. For our purposes, however, let’s just say that most of the time an adverb goes after the verb it modifies:
I read well.
But it can be quite flexible in many cases. Consider: “She quickly signed her name” and “She signed her name quickly.”
Another tricky thing about English adverbs has to do with the placement of the adverb before or after an infinitive verb—but I’ll let you Google “split infinitive” if you want in on that can of worms.
Is French adverb placement simpler, we hope?
Here’s one general rule to rule (most of) them all: French adverbs go after the conjugated verb they modify.
If the verb tense in question is a simple tense, the adverb goes right after the verb it modifies. That means that if a tense consists of only a conjugated main verb, the adverb goes after it. For example:
Je lis souvent.
(I read often.)
The adverb souvent (often) comes after the main, conjugated verb lis (read).
However, if the verb tense being used is a compound tense, the adverb often goes after the support verb for short adverbs. That means that if a tense consists of a main verb and a support verb like être (to be), avoir (to have) or aller (to go), the adverb goes after the first conjugated verb. For example:
J’ai beaucoup dormi.
(I slept a lot.)
Here the adverb beaucoup comes after the conjugated support verb ai and before dormi.
There is some leeway, however. For longer adverbs, such as ones that end in -ment, the adverb can be placed after the participle. For example:
Je suis allé(e) rapidement à l’école.
(I went quickly to school.)
Got it? Good.
Where to Place French Adverbs That Modify Adjectives
In English, adverbs usually come in front of the adjectives they modify:
I read very long books.
In French when an adverb modifies an adjective or another adverb, it’s also placed in front of the word it modifies. Observe:
Tous les voyageurs que je connais sont vraiment sympas.
(All of the travelers I know are truly nice.)
The adverb vraiment comes before the adjective sympas, which it modifies.
Le film était trop bizarre pour moi.
(The film was too weird for me.)
The adverb trop comes before the adjective it modifies: bizarre.
You’re Doing Well: Bon vs. Bien
Perhaps the most confusing of French adverb and adjective combinations are bon (good) and bien (well).
It turns out that adjectives and adverbs can be very friendly and close in meaning, but no two are closer than these two. They’re so close, in fact, that they can be used as nouns as well, but in this section we’re just going to focus on their roles as adjectives and adverbs.
To be clear:
Bon is an adjective meaning “good.”
As such, bon modifies only nouns. For example, we could say “le bon garçon” to mean “the good boy.” In this case, garçon is a noun, modified by the adjective bon. It would be incorrect to use bien in this situation.
The word bien is an adverb.
As you know, adverbs modify verbs or adjectives. In the case of bien, we could say “tu parles bien français” to mean “you speak French well.” Parles is a verb, and the adverb bien modifies it. It would be incorrect to use bon in this situation.
The same set-up goes for the adjective mauvais (bad) and the adverb mal (bad; poorly). While these words can be used as nouns in certain cases, mauvais is most often an adjective and modifies nouns.
Il a de mauvais résultats.
(He has bad results.)
Mal is most often an adverb and modifies a verb.
J’ai mal mangé.
(I didn’t eat well.)
When French Adjectives Transform into Adverbs
Remember how I said adjectives and adverbs were close?
Well, like English, French allows adjectives to becomes adverbs by adding a suffix. In English, that suffix is “–ly.” For example, we can take the adjective “obvious” and turn it into the adverb “obviously” by adding the suffix “-ly.”
The same is true for French. By adding the suffix -ment, French speakers can transform adjectives into adverbs. For example:
confortable (comfortable) → confortablement (comfortably)
malheureuse (unfortunate) → malheureusement (unfortunately)
Not so fast, though. French has a few rules for transforming adjectives into adverbs:
1. If the adjective finishes with a vowel, simply add the suffix -ment.
facile (easy) → facilement (easily)
2. If the adjective ends in a consonant, you must add the suffix -ment to the feminine form of the adjective. For example:
réel (real) → réelle (real-feminine form) → réellement (really)
3. If the adjective finishes with -ent or -ant, you simply remove those letters and instead add -emment or -amment respectively. Like so:
évident (evident) → évidemment (evidently)
brillant (brilliant) → brillamment (brilliantly)
Keep in mind, however, that there are a few exceptions.
We already spoke about how the adverb form of the adjective bon is bien, and other irregular adverbs include gentiment (nicely) from the adjective gentil (nice), and brièvement (briefly) from the adjective bref (brief).
Common French Adverbs
Now that we’ve gotten the specifics out of the way, check out these 10 common French adverbs that you can use every day!
Assez (quite, fairly)
Il est assez bon.
(He is quite good.)
Vous regardez toujours ces émissions.
(You always watch these television shows.)
Je vais parfois à la bibliothèque.
(I sometimes go to the library.)
Nous sortons rarement.
(We rarely go out.)
Elle mange maintenant.
(She is eating now.)
Tard (late, later)
Tu arrives tard.
(You’re arriving late.)
Le repas est très bon.
(The meal is very good.)
Trop (too much)
Ils parlent trop.
(They speak too much.)
Elles lisent rapidement.
(They read quickly.)
Répétez lentement, s’il vous plaît.
(Repeat slowly, please.)
So, there you have it: Your simple guide to learning adverbs easily.
Just to make sure you have it down, try some practice quizzes. About French has some great ones, as do the University of Texas and Soft Schools.
Until next time, study fiercely!
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