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-it is common in English to see an adverb placed further away from the word it modifies, often tacked on the end.
Examples of Adverbial Placement
Note, for example, the differences in these two equivalent sentences:
- Aprobó facilmente el examen de geometría euclidiana.
- She passed the Euclidian geometry test easily.
In Spanish the adverb, facilmente, comes immediately after the verb, aprobó. In English, however, "easily" comes at the end of the sentence, with four words coming between it and the verb. Although it would be possible to place "easily" immediately before "passed," it also would be acceptable to place an additional description after "test" and still keep "easily" at the end.
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. For example, either of these sentences would be an acceptable translation for "The county issued two licenses previously":
- El condado emitió dos licencias previamente.
- El condado emitió previamente dos licencias.
Emitió here is the verb in the sentence, and previamente is the adverb. Previamente couldn't be placed at the end if licensias were followed by a description. For example, if the sentence were talking about business licenses, licencias de empresa, previamente would have to be placed next to emitió: El condado emitió previamente dos licensias de empresa.
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, native speakers would not immediately connect the meaning of the adverb with the verb.
Before or After the Word Being Modified?
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.
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.
Adverbs of Negation
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.
Modifying Another Adverb
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.
- At the beginning of the sentence: Posiblemente, Sharon retrasará su viaje.
- Spanish adverbs are placed close, and usually next to, the words they modify.
- Descriptive Spanish adverbs usually come after the verbs they modify but before adjectives they modify.
- When an adverb modifies the meaning of the entire sentence, its placement is flexible.