Gli Avverbi: Italian Adverbs

Learn how to use these words that add detail to our speech

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Much like in English, adverbs in Italian (gli avverbi) are used to modify, clarify, qualify, or quantify the meaning of a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

For example:

  • Sto bene. I am well.
  • Ho dormito poco. I slept little.
  • Quello scrittore è piuttosto famoso. That writer is quite famous.
  • Devi parlare molto lentamente. You have to speak very slowly.
  • Presto ti vedrò. Soon I will see you.

Adverbs are invariable, which means they do not have gender or number, and they are, thus, relatively easily recognizable. Mostly, you can recognize them because of their role.

Types of Adverbs

For the purposes of their quantifying and qualifying role, Italian adverbs are most easily subdivided based on how exactly they define or refine something in a sentence. Do they tell us how you are? How much you slept? When you will see someone?

Adverbs are divided into:

Avverbi di Modo or Maniera

These avverbi di modo (adverbs of manner) tell us how something is happening; they refine the quality of an action or an adjective. Among them are bene (well), male (poorly), piano (softly), the compound adverbs that end in -mente, such as velocemente (quickly—see more below), and volentieri (happily).

  • Ho dormito benissimo. I slept very well.
  • Lucia sta male. Lucia is sick.
  • Devi guidare lentamente. You must drive slowly.
  • Parla piano. Speak softly.
  • Vengo volentieri a casa tua a cena. I come happily/gladly to your home for dinner.

Some adjectives are also adverbs, and you can distinguish the difference by their role: piano, for example, can mean flat (una superficie piana), and, as such is variable, an adjective; it also means softly, invariable, an adverb.

Remember the distinction in English between the advective "good" and the adverb "well." The same holds true in Italian: buono is an adjective and variable, and bene is an adverb, invariable. So, if you taste something, to say it is good you say it is buono, not bene.

  • Sto molto bene. I am very well.
  • Le torte sono molto buone. The cakes are very good.

Included in this group of avverbi di modo are all the comparative degrees of qualitative adjectives, such as peggio (worse), meglio (better), malissimo (terribly) and benissimo (very well).

  • Sto peggio di prima. I am worse than before.
  • Voglio mangiare meglio. I want to eat better.
  • La cosa è andata pessimamente. The matter went horribly.

Avverbi di Luogo

These adverbs of place tell us where something is happening. Among them are sopra (above), sotto (below), fuori (outside), dove (where), qui (here),(there), qua (here), (there), lontano (far), vicino (close/closely), laggiù (down there), lassù (up there), ovunque (anywhere), lontanamente (remotely).

  • Da vicino ci vedo bene. From up close I see well.
  • Non te lo immagini nemmeno lontanamente. You don't imagine it not even remotely.

Again, among adverbs of place are words that also can be adjectives: lontano and vicino are among them. Remember to check if they are variable or not in the context in which they are used.

Avverbi di Tempo

The avverbi di tempo (adverbs of time) tell us something about the timing of an action. Among them are prima (before, earlier), dopo (after, afterward), dopodomani (the day after tomorrow), presto (soon), and subito (immediately).

  • Ti chiamo dopo. I'll call you later.
  • Vieni subito! Come immediately!
  • Andiamo immediatamente. Let's go immediately.
  • Ci vediamo presto. We'll see each other soon.

Avverbi di Quantità

These adverbs of quantity, as they are called, define or refine quantity. Among them are abbastanza (enough), parecchio (a lot), quanto (how much), tanto (a lot), poco (a little), troppo (too much), ancora (still, again, or more), and per niente (not at all).

  • Ti voglio vedere meno. I want to see you less.
  • Sono ancora troppo stanca. I am still too tired.
  • Mi manchi parecchio. I miss you a lot.

Among the avverbi di quantità are also the comparatives and superlatives of some basic adverbs: meno (less), più (more), pochissimo (very little), moltissimo (a lot), and minimamente (minimally).

Avverbi di Modalità

These adverbs state affirmation or negation, doubt, reservation or exclusion: (yes), no (no), forse (maybe), neppure (not even, nor), anche (also, even), probabilmente (probably).

  • No, neppure io vengo. No, I am not coming either.
  • Forse mangio dopo. Maybe I'll eat later.
  • Probabilmente ci vediamo domani. Probably we'll see each other tomorrow.

Adverb Formation

Based on their formation or composition, Italian adverbs can also be divided into three other cross-groups: semplici or primitivi, composti, and derivati. These subdivisions intersect with the subdivisions listed above; in other words, one set addressing substance, the other form.

Avverbi Semplici

Simple (also called primitive) adverbs are one word:

  • Mai: never , ever
  • Forse: maybe, perhaps
  • Bene: well, fine
  • Male: badly
  • Volentieri: happily
  • Poco: little, poorly
  • Dove: where
  • Più: more
  • Qui: here
  • Assai: a lot, very much
  • Già: already

Again, as you can see, they straddle the categories of time, manner, and place listed above.

Avverbi Composti

Compound adverbs are formed by combining two or more different words:

  • Almeno (al meno): at least
  • Dappertutto (da per tutto): everywhere
  • Infatti (in fatti): in fact
  • Perfino (per fino): even
  • Pressappoco: more or less, roughly

Avverbi Derivati

The derivati are those derived from an adjective, created by adding the suffix -mente: triste-mente (sadly), serena-mente (serenely). They translate to the adverbs in English that are made by adding -ly to an adjective: badly, serenely, strongly.

  • Fortemente: strongly
  • Raramente: rarely
  • Malamente: badly
  • Generalmente: generally
  • Puramente: purely
  • Casualmente: casually
  • Leggermente: lightly
  • Violentemente: violently
  • Facilmente: easily

These types of adverbs can sometimes have alternate adverbial forms: all'improvviso can be improvvisamente (suddenly); di frequente can be frequentemente (frequently); generalmente can be in generale.

You can also substitute the -mente with in maniera or in modo to say the same thing as the derived adverb: in maniera leggera (in a light way/lightly); in maniera casuale (in a casual way/casually); in maniera forte (in a strong way/strongly).

  • Mi ha toccata leggermente sulla spalla, or, Mi ha toccata in maniera leggera/in modo leggero sulla spalla. He touched me lightly on the shoulder.

With these types of adverbs you create degrees by using più or meno:

  • Farai il tuo lavoro più facilmente adesso. You will do your work more easily now.
  • Negli anni passati lo ho visto ancora più raramente. In recent years I saw him even more rarely/less frequently.
  • Devi salutarlo più cortesemente. You must say hello to him in a nicer manner.

You can make a superlative of some derived adverbs: rarissimamente, velocissimamente, leggerissimamente.

How to make a derived form of an adjective? If an adjective ends in -e, you just add the -mente (dolcemente); if the adjective ends in a/o, you add the -mente to the female form (puramente); if the adjective ends in -le or -re, you drop the -e (normalmente, difficilmente). You can always check a dictionary to verify if it is correct.

Locuzioni Avverbiali

There is a final group called locution adverbs, which are groupings of words that, in that specific order, have adverbial function.

Among them are:

  • All'improvviso: suddenly
  • A mano a mano: progressively
  • Di frequente: often/frequently
  • Per di qua: around here, this way
  • Poco fa: a little while ago
  • A più non posso: as much as possible
  • D'ora in poi: from now on
  • Prima o poi: sooner or later

Also among those are alla marinara, all'amatriciana, alla portoghese, defining a style of something.

Placement of Adverbs in Italian

Where do you put an adverb in Italian? It depends.

With Verbs

With a verb, adverbs defining manner generally go after the verb; With a compound tense, though, adverbs can be placed between the auxiliary and the participle:

  • Ti amo davvero. I love you truly.
  • Ti ho veramente amata. I really loved you.
  • Veramente, ti amo e ti ho amata sempre. Really, I love you and I have loved you always.

It is a matter of emphasis, context, and rhythm.

Adverbs of time are placed before the verb or after the verb, again, depending on where you want to put the emphasis in the sentence (much like English).

  • Domani andiamo a camminare. Tomorrow we are going to walk.
  • Andiamo a camminare domani. We'll go walk tomorrow.

Sempre, for example, sounds better between the auxiliary and the past participle, but it can be placed before or after depending on the emphasis:

  • Marco ha sempre avuto fede in me. Marco always had faith in me.
  • Sempre, Marco ha avuto fede in me. Always, Marco has had faith in me.
  • Marco ha avuto fede in me sempre, senza dubbio. Marco had faith in me always, without a doubt.

Another example:

  • La mattina di solito mi alzo molto presto. In the morning usually I get up very early.
  • Di solito la mattina mi alzo molto presto. Usually in the morning I get up very early.
  • Mi alzo molto presto la mattina, di solito. I get up very early in the morning, usually.

Some Norms

With an adjective, the adverb goes before the adjective it defines:

  • Sono palesemente stupita. I am plainly stunned.
  • Sei una persona molto buona. You are a very good person.
  • Sei una persona poco affidabile. You are an unreliable person (a not-so reliable person).

You don't generally place a locuzione avverbiale between the auxiliary and the past participle in a compound verb tense:

  • All'improvviso si è alzato ed è uscito. Suddenly he got up and left.
  • A mano a mano che è salito, il ragno ha steso la tela. Progressively as he climbed, the spider spun his web.

In the case of a negative sentence, no matter how many adverbs you pack in there, nothing separates the non from the verb except a pronoun:

  • Almeno ieri non mi ha trattata goffamente come fa spesso recentemente sotto gli occhi di tutti. At least yesterday he didn't treat me awkwardly as he often does recently in front of everyone.

Interrogative Adverbs

Of course, an adverb that serve the purpose of introducing a question—interrogative adverbs or avverbi interrogativi—go before the verb:

  • Quanto costano queste banane? How much do these bananas cost?
  • Quando arrivi? When are you arriving?

Well, unless you are surprised by a piece of information and you want to put emphasis on that, placing it at the end of the sentence:

  • Arrivi quando?! All'una di notte?! You are arriving when?! At 1 a.m.?!
  • Le banane costano quanto?! Dieci euro?! The bananas cost how much?! Ten euros?!

Buono studio!