You ran to the store.
Wait, let’s try that again.
You ran to the store frantically.
You ran to the unusually empty store quite frantically as the zombies chased you tenaciously.
Now we’re talking.
If you really want to light a fire under your language use, you’ll need adverbs. That goes for English-language stories about the zombie apocalypse, just as it does for your Japanese.
And in fact, there are a number of similarities between Japanese adverbs and their English equivalents. However, that doesn’t mean you should kick back and cross this topic off your grammar to-do list.
Japanese adverbs come in a variety of classifications and they have different uses and positions within sentences. If you want to be able to effortlessly throw around Japanese adverbs like a native speaker, you’ll need to learn their quirks.
We’re here to help. The guide below will show you how to identify, form and correctly use Japanese adverbs in a variety of settings.
How to Use Japanese Adverbs Masterfully, Excellently, Beautifully
How Do Adverbs Work in Japanese?
To start with, just what are adverbs? What’s their function?
Great question to start us off with, reader.
Adverbs are words that serve to modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They come from different origins and fall into different categories, but we’ll get into the details of that later. For now, let’s look at a quick example sentence to zero in on the subject at hand:
The fox ran quickly.
キツネは速く走りました。(きつねは はやく はしりました。)
In this case the adverb quickly modifies the verb ran, informing us of how the fox ran. Additionally, both in English and Japanese, the adverb quickly, or 速く, is derived from the adjective quick, or 速い.
We can convert many adjectives into adverbs by adding “-ly” to the end in English; Japanese has a similar modification mechanism that we’ll delve into below.
How to Derive Adverbs from Adjectives
As you may recall, Japanese adjectives come in two types: -い and -な. If this doesn’t sound familiar or is a bit hazy, check out this guide to Japanese adjectives and this rundown of essential adjectives.
In both cases, the change from adjective to adverb is quite simple.
-い Adjective Transformation
For -い adjectives, simply replace the -い with -く. Done.
速い (はやい) — quick becomes 速く (はやく) — quickly.
彼女は速い。(かのじょは はやい。) — She is fast.
彼女は速く食べません。(かのじょは はやく たべません。) — She does not eat quickly.
かわいい — cute changes to かわいく — cutely.
犬はかわいい。(いぬは かわいい。) — The dog is cute.
赤ちゃん達はかわいく笑います。(あかちゃんたちは かわいく わらいます。) — Babies laugh cutely.
-な Adjective Transformation
As for -な adjectives, instead of adding -な as the connective tissue, use -に instead. Double done.
静かな (しずかな) — quiet turns into 静かに (しずかに) — quietly.
ここは静かな部屋です。(ここは しずかな へやです。) — This is a quiet room.
彼は静かに眠りませんでした。(かれは しずかに ねむりませんでした。) — He did not sleep quietly.
熱心な (ねっしんな) — enthusiastic becomes 熱心に (ねっしんに) — enthusiastically.
ナマケモノは熱心じゃない。(なまけものは ねっしん じゃない。) — The sloth is not enthusiastic.
私は熱心に勉強しました。(わたしは ねっしんに べんきょうしました。) — I studied enthusiastically.
Memorize These Non-adjectival Adverbs
Not all adverbs are derived from adjectives. In fact, some of the most important ones are adverbs through and through.
沢山 (たくさん) — a lot
もう, すでに — already
もっと — more
本当に (ほんとうに) — really
多分 (たぶん) — probably
あなたは本当にパーティーに行きますか？ (あなたは ほんとうに ぱーてぃーに いきますか？) — Are you really going to the party?
多分。(たぶん。) — Probably.
あまり — not very (only used with negatives)
野菜はあまり好きじゃない。(やさいは あまり すきじゃない。) — I don’t like vegetables very much.
ゆっくり — slowly
ゆっくり話してください。(ゆっくり はなして ください。) — Please speak slowly.
ちょっと — a little
ちょっと待って。(ちょっと まって。) — Wait a moment.
Different Classes of Japanese Adverbs
Adverbs fall under a number of classifications. Knowing which adverbs fall into which class isn’t terribly important, but you do want to avoid doubling up on some since it can come out sounding nonsensical (like if an English speaker were to say “very a little”). Just be sure it makes sense when translating.
One exception is descriptive-style adverbs, which can be used in conjunction since they’re typically modifying adjectives or verbs (“he awkwardly, haltingly danced”) rather than other adverbs.
Adverbs of Degree
These adverbs express to what degree an action is performed or an adjective instantiated.
かなり — fairly, quite
熊はかなり大きいです。 (くまは かなり おおきい です。) — The bear is quite large.
全然 (ぜんぜん) — not at all (only used with negatives)
全然泳ぎません。 (ぜんぜん およぎません。) — I don’t swim at all.
とても — very
彼女はとても素晴らしい。 (かのじょは とてもすばらしい。) — She is very beautiful.
Adverbs of Place
These answer the question of where an action takes place.
ここ — here
ここにボールを投げろ。(ここに ぼーるをなげろ。) — Throw the ball here.
どこでも — everywhere
世界のどこでも行ってみたい。 (せかいの どこでも いってみたい。) — I want to go everywhere in the world.
Adverbs of Time
Adverbs for when something happens and its duration.
昨日 (きのう) — yesterday
昨日、猫は死にました。 (きのう、ねこは しにました。) — The cat passed away yesterday.
今 (いま) — now
今、行きましょう。 (いま、いきましょう。) — Let’s go now.
Adverbs of Frequency
How often does the action take place or is the adjective manifested?
いつも — always
いつも遅れる。 (いつも おくれる。) — I’m always late.
よく — often
よくビールを飲みます。 (よく びーるをのみます。) — I often drink beer.
時々 (ときどき) — sometimes
彼女は電車で時々歌います。 (かのじょは でんしゃで ときどき うたいます。) — She sings on the train sometimes.
毎日 (まいにち) — everyday
彼は毎日シャワーを浴びます。 (かれは まいにち しゃわーをあびます。) — He showers everyday.
Adverbs of Manner
Answers how the action is performed.
強く (つよく) — strongly
風が強く吹く。 (かぜが つよく ふく。) — The wind blows strongly.
弱く (よわく) — weakly
雨が弱く降る。(あめが よわく ふる。) — The rain falls weakly.
楽しく (たのしく) — joyfully
私達は日本語を楽しく学びます。(わたしたちは にほんごをたのしく まなびます。) — We learn Japanese joyfully.
Japanese Sentence Structure with Adverbs
Now that we’ve established what adverbs are, where they come from, what types there are and some vocabulary by which to use them, let’s pin down where they ought to fall within sentences. To do that we’ll first have to determine what the adverb is modifying.
Adverbs Modifying Verbs
When modifying verbs, the adverb can be placed almost anywhere in the sentence so long as it comes before the verb. Note that adverbs of degree and manner will additionally want to show up after the topic.
This still leaves a lot of leeway, since the topic is typically up front and the verb is right at the very end. However, a useful concept to keep in mind here is that the closer the adverb is placed to the verb, the more emphasis it’s given.
彼は急いで病院へ走って行きました。(かれは いそいで びょういんへ はしっていきました。) — He ran to the hospital quickly.
彼は病院へ急いで走って行きました。(かれは びょういんへ いそいで はしっていきました。) — He quickly ran to the hospital.
Though they both get the same point across, the latter emphasizes a bit more how he ran to the hospital, stressing the urgency; the former’s priority is that he ran to the hospital, and how he did so is more of an afterthought.
Adverbs Modifying Adjectives
In the case of modifying adjectives, simply place the adverb directly in front of the adjective.
沖縄の夏は大変暑いです。(おきなわの なつは たいへん あついです。) — Okinawa’s summers are terribly hot.
注射はほとんど痛くなかった。(ちゅうしゃは ほとんど いたくなかった。) — The injection was rarely painful.
Adverbs Modifying Other Adverbs
To modify other adverbs, follow the same guidelines as with adjectives: directly precede what you want to adjust.
もうちょっとゆっくり食べなさい。(もうちょっと ゆっくり たべなさい。) — Eat a bit more slowly.
バレリーナはとても優しく踊った。(ばれりーなは とても やさしく おどった。) — The ballerina danced very gently.
There you have it, everything you need to know about the underpinning structures of Japanese adverbs.
And with that knowledge you can now take just about any adjective you can think of (most of which we didn’t cover here), turn it into an adverb and place it properly in a sentence fully aware of the emphasis it’ll convey. That’s the power of grammar.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.