Keep Spanish Adverbs Close to its Modifier

Adverbs Should Not Be Tacked on the End of a Sentence

Windmills at the sunset in Consuegra town in Spain
Elena Liseykina / Getty Images

As a general rule, Spanish adverbs and adverbial phrases are placed near the word they modify, generally right before or after. English is more flexible in this regard. In English, it is common to see an adverb placed further away from the word it modifies.

For example, Aprobó facilmente el examen de geometría euclidiana, which translates to "She passed the Euclidian geometry test easily." The adverb, facilmente, comes immediately after the verb, aprobó. Unlike the English translation, the adverb, "easily," is tacked on to the end of the sentence. Usually, the Spanish adverb is right next to the word it is describing.

In Spanish, it is possible to place the adverb after the object of a verb, but only if the object is made up of just a word or two. Take a look at the sentence, "The county issued two licenses previously." "Issued" is the verb and "previously," is the adverb. In Spanish, it is acceptable to say, El condado emitió dos licencias previamente."  Emitió is the verb in the sentence. Previamente is the adverb.

If many words had followed the verb, the adverb would not be able to used at the end. An example using a variation on the last sentence would be, El condado emitió previamente dos licencias de matrimonio para parejas jovenes. The adverb previamente has to go close to the verb emitió, otherwise, the meaning of the sentence is lost.

Where Is Its Proper Place

Depending on how the adverb is used, it can be placed before or after the word being modified. For example, is the adverb modifying a verb, another adverb or an adjective? The type of word being modified usually determines where the adverb is placed in the sentence.

Adverbs Modifying Verbs

Usually, an adverb that modifies a verb is placed after the verb. For example, "The economy is based principally on three businesses," is translated as, La economía se basa principalmente en tres empresas. Basa is the verb and principalmente is the adverb.

Exceptions to this rule are adverbs of negation such as no or nunca, meaning "no" or "never." Negating adverbs always precede the verb. For example, No quiero ir al cine, means, "I don't want to go to the movies." The adverb, no, comes before the verb, quiero.  Another example, María nunca habla de su vida personal, means, "María never talks about her personal life." The placement of the adverb is exactly the same as in English. The adverb, "never" or nunca, goes immediately before the verb, "talks" or habla.

Adverbs Modifying Other Adverbs

An adverb that modifies another adverb comes before the adverb being modified. For example, Pueden moverse tan rápidamente como la luz, means,"They can move as quick as light." The literal translation of the sentence is, "They can move really fast like the light." Tan, meaning "really," is modifying rápidamente, meaning,"fast."

Adverbs Modifying Adjectives

An adverb that modifies an adjective comes before the adjective. Estoy muy contento, means, "I am very happy."  Muy is an adverb that means, "very," and contento is the adjective, meaning "happy." 

Adverbs Modifying an Entire Sentence

An adverb that modifies an entire sentence often comes at the beginning of the sentence, but, there is some flexibility and it can be placed in different spots in the sentence.

For example, take a look at the sentence, "Possibly, Sharon will postpone her trip." There are three possible placements of the adverb, posiblemente, and they are all correct: Before the verb,  ​Sharon posiblemente retrasará su viaje; after the verb, Sharon retrasará posiblemente su viaje; and, at the beginning of the sentence, Posiblemente, Sharon retrasará su viaje.