Introduction to Spanish Adverbs

They function similarly to English adverbs

Two people hugging
Se abrazaron cariñosamente. (They hugged each other fondly. "Cariñosamente" and "fondly" are adverbs.).

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Like an adjective, an adverb is a type of word that often is used to provide needed details. Although we could make grammatically complete sentences without them, we would be severely limited in what we could convey.

What Are Adverbs?

Spanish adverbs are much like their English counterparts. There are at least two ways in which we can define what adverbs are:

  • Words that tell us when, how, or where the action or process in a sentence takes place.
  • Words that modify or limit the meaning of a verb, adjective, adverb, or entire sentence.

As in English, most Spanish adverbs are derived from adjectives. Most Spanish adverbs that are derived from adjectives end in -mente, just as in English most end in "-ly."

Examples of Adverbs Classified by Function

The following sentences give examples of the way adverbs can be used as shown in the above criteria. English translations follow roughly the same word order to help clarify the adverbs' usage, although other word orders usually are possible.)

Telling us when: Pronto voy a verte. (Soon I am going to see you. Pronto tells when I will see you.)

Telling us how: Los estamos observando cuidadosamente. (We are watching them carefully. Cuidadosamente tells how they are being watched.)

Telling us where: A Amanda le gusta jugar afuera. (Amanda likes to play outside. Afuera tells where Amanda likes to play by explaining where.)

Modifying a verb: Entonces estudiamos con nuestros amigos. (Then we will study with out friends. Entonces affects the meaning of the verb estudiar by explaining when.)

Modifying an adjective: España todavía está muy verde. (Spain still is very green. Muy affects the meaning of the adjective verde by indicating intensity.)

Modifying another adverb: Muy pronto voy a verte. (Soon I am going to see you. Muy affects the meaning of pronto by indicating intensity.)

Modifying a sentence: Desafortunadamente no voy a estar aquí. (Unfortunately, I am not going to be here. Desafortunadamente affects the meaning of the rest of the sentence by explaining its significance.)

Examples of Adverbs Classified by Meaning

Adjectives can also be categorized by the way in way they change meaning. In some cases, this affects whether they come before or after what is modified.

Adverbs of manner: Adverbs of manner are the most common and are used in a wide variety of situations, as they tell how something is done. In Spanish, they typically come after the verbs they modify.

  • Estudia bien. (She studies well.)
  • Canta mal. (He sings poorly.)
  • Conduce lentamente. (He drives slowly.)
  • Me abrazó cariñosamente. (She affectionately hugged me.)
  • Leo mucho. (I read a lot.)

Intensifiers and modifiers: These serve to make the adverb or adjective they modify either more or less intense. They come before the words they modify.

  • Estoy muy cansada. (I am very tired.)
  • Es poco inteligente. (He is not very intelligent.)
  • Está más borracho. (He is quite drunk.)

"Point of view" adverbs: These adverbs modify an entire sentence and evaluate it. Although they usually come at the beginning of a sentence, they don't have to.

  • Quizás él tenga miedo. (Perhaps he is afraid.)
  • Personalmente, no lo creo. (Personally, I don't believe it.)
  • Pablo evidentemente estudia mucho. (Pablo obviously studies a lot.)

Adverbs of time: These adverbs tell when something occurs. They often come after the verb but can come before.

  • Salimos mañana. (We're leaving tomorrow.)
  • No estudia nunca. (He never studies.)

Adverbs of place: These adverbs tell where an action or process occurs. They can be confusing for beginning learners, since many of the adverbs that indicate place can also function as prepositions or even as pronouns. Adverbs of place appear either before or after the verb they modify. It is more important in Spanish than in English to make certain that the adverb is placed close to the verb it modifies.

  • Está aquí. (It is here.)
  • Allí comeremos. (We'll eat there.)
  • Te busca arriba. (He is looking for you upstairs.)

Quick Takeaways

  • Adverbs are a type of word that is used to affect the meaning of an entire sentence or certain words, particularly verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs by telling us how, when, or where.
  • Spanish adverbs based on adjectives frequently end in -mente.
  • Depending on how they are used, Spanish adverbs can be placed before or after the words whose meanings they change.