In English, there’s a bit of freedom in where to position your adverbs, and while there may be a preferred location for certain sentence constructions, there usually isn’t a truly incorrect place to place the adverb.
Softly, she laughed. / She softly laughed. / She laughed softly.
None of the above versions is out and out wrong, though one may sound “more correct” to your ears.
However, with French adverbs, there is a specific place they usually go, depending on the type of adverb and what it’s modifying (remember, adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs). When in doubt, your best guess is to put them right after the verb, but here are the specific placement rules:
#1: Adverbs of Frequency
Exceptions to “frequency” adverbs placement
- Souvent falls under the “short adverbs category” described below.
- Parfois usually goes at the beginning of the sentence.
Adverbs that describe how often something happens (such as toujours, rarement, immédiatement, etc. go after the verb, even if it’s a compound verb structure, such as passé composé).
#2: Short adverbs
Short adverbs, like mal, bien and souvent, go right after the verb in simple verb tenses, just like you’d expect. However, with compound (two-part) verb tenses, they go between the conjugated verb and the past participle.
Adverbs of specific days, such as aujourd’hui and demain, got at the beginning or end of the sentence. This one shouldn’t be too difficult to remember, because it’s generally how we would say it in English, as well.
#4: Long Adverbs
Like the “time” adverbs, long adverbs generally go at the beginning or end of a sentence. This structure is sometimes different from how many people would structure the sentence in English, but the idea is to not “confuse” the main part of the sentence with a long, multi-syllable adverb, and instead stick it at the beginning or end of a sentence, separated by a comma.
#5: Adverbs that Modify Adjectives or Other Adverbs
This last French adverb rule is really easy, because it’s exactly the same way in English – you put the adverb in front of the other adverb or adjective it’s modifying. In other words, place the “main” adverb (the one that refers directly to the verb) in its place, then just place any other adverbs right in front of it.
A Final Note: Forming Adverbs
The ending –ment in French is almost a direct equivalent to the –ly ending in English, and many adjectives that can be turned into adverbs by adding -ly in English can be created by adding –ment to the end in French. For example:
rapide (adjective) → rapidement (adverb)
timide (adjective) → timidement (adverb)
lent (adjective) → lentement (adverb)
And that’s it (for now) for adverb grammar rules in French! Make sure you know the French adjective grammar rules as well.