Adverbs, or los adverbios in Spanish, are notoriously challenging compared to other parts of speech. Spanish has a few different ways to express adverbs, and they all tell how, when, how often, and where an action (a verb) takes place.
Adverbs help you to be more precise when describing things in Spanish.
In this article, we’ll cover what adverbs are, what they do, how to form them, and how to use them to enhance your spoken and written Spanish.
What are adverbs?
First of all, adverbs include words and phrases, and they can modify adjectives, verbs, and even other adverbs and whole sentences. Compare this to nouns, which comprise people, places, things, and ideas — so much easier to spot in a sentence than adverbs!
Adverbs vs. adjectives
Their names sound similar in English and Spanish, and their functions are related: they modify other parts of the sentence. Here’s the key difference: adjectives describe nouns only, so you usually find them near the nouns they describe or can spot them by associating them with their nouns.
By contrast, adverbs find themselves all throughout the sentence: an adverb may appear as a single word next to the adjective, verb, or adverb it modifies, another may be a phrase wedged between dashes, and a different one may start the sentence it modifies. In general, if you’re having trouble identifying which part of speech a word belongs to, it’s likely an adverb!
Below is a chart with some examples of adverbs in sentences in English and Spanish.
Spanish adverb placement
Most of the time, adverbs behave similarly in English and Spanish. When an adverb modifies a verb, it usually follows the verb. When an adverb modifies an adjective, it usually comes before the adjective. When an adverb modifies another adverb, it usually comes before the adverb. In both languages, adverbs modifying phrases and sentences can show up at the beginning of the sentence, too.
Below are some example sentences with the adverbs bolded and each of these combinations underlined.
You may have learned about concordancia, or Spanish agreement rules that govern pairings of subjects and verbs, nouns and adjectives. For more information about concordancia, check out this article covering Spanish grammar basics or this one all about Spanish adjectives.
Interestingly enough, adverbs in Spanish are invariable, so they don’t abide by the same concordancia rules; in other words, adverbs never change in gender or number to agree with the verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, and sentences they modify.
In the sentences below, notice how the adverb rápido does not change despite the fact that el tráfico is masculine and singular while las gallinas is feminine and plural. On the other hand, when rápido is used in its adjective form to describe nouns, we do have to implement those pesky concordancia rules.
Forming adverbs in Spanish
In grade school, you may have learned that adverbs end in -ly in English. This rule of thumb is a great start, but it isn’t the whole story: some adjectives end in -ly, such as “heavenly” and “curmudgeonly,” and tons of adverbs don’t end in -ly, such as “fast,” “quite,” “here,” and “there.” In Spanish, there’s a similar rule with its own exceptions: many adverbs end in -mente. More precisely, many adverbs formed from adjectives end in -ly and -mente in English and Spanish, respectively.
To form these adverbs in English, we just tack -ly onto the adjective and call it a day. In Spanish, the adjective first converts from its standard singular masculine form to its singular feminine form before it receives the -mente ending.
Some examples and exceptions, denoted with asterisks, are laid out in the following chart.
Fun fact: if you’d like to list two or more -mente adverbs in a row, be sure to drop the -mente endings from all the adverbs except for the last adverb in the list. The result will look like a group of singular, feminine adjectives and one adverb. Here’s an example:
De repente, el gato corrió energética y poderosamente (All of a sudden, the cat ran energetically and powerfully).
Types of adverbs in Spanish language
As we’ve discussed earlier, adverbs can be categorized by what they modify and, in turn, their possible positions in a sentence. In addition, adverbs can be divided into categories based on their meanings. Below are the major categories of adverbs in Spanish language.
Spanish adverbs of manner
These adverbs answer the questions “How?” and “In what way?” an action was performed. Check out these questions and answers for examples of adverbs of manner in English.
Q: “How did the traffic move?”
A: “The traffic moved quickly — in a brisk manner.”
Q: “How did the game go?”
A: “It went swimmingly — in a mode most victorious!”
Admittedly, the “in a brisk manner” and “in a mode most victorious” sound ridiculous to most English speakers in the twenty-first century, but these constructions are super helpful to keep in mind for two reasons. First, they reaffirm that these are adverbs of manner — we used the word “manner” and “mode” to describe how the verbs were carried out.
Secondly, the direct Spanish translations would be “de manera brusca” and “de modo victorioso.”
These are common templates to form Spanish adverbial expressions of manner when a simpler adverb or -mente adverb doesn’t quite work. To use these options, start with your verb, then add the phrase “de manera” or “de modo,” and end with an adjective — make sure the adjective ending is feminine singular for “de manera” and masculine singular for “de modo.”
Keep in mind that some adverbs typically take the -mente ending whereas others sound more natural in the “de manera” or “de modo” construction. An experienced Spanish tutor should have the knowledge to give you the more common version of the adverb, helping you sound natural and fluent.
Spanish adverbs of place
A more limited category of adverbs are adverbs of place, which answer the question “Where?”. None of the adverbs of place end with -mente, which makes them relatively difficult to memorize.
On the other hand, they’re incredibly common words, so you’ll start to recognize them and pick them up in no time! Some common examples are aquí and acá (here), allí and allá (there), adentro (within, inside), afuera (outside), cerca (near), and lejos (far).
Remember that while adentro, cerca, and other adverbs may look like adjectives, they do not need to change their endings in accordance with concordancia rules.
Spanish adverbs of time
These adverbs answer the questions “When?” and “How frequently?”
Some of these adverbs, such as hoy (today), ayer (yesterday), ya (already), and aún and todavía (still), are short and hard to grasp. Again, exposure and practice will help you a ton!
Another bucket of these adverbs are -mente adverbs. Many are cognates, meaning they sound similar in English and Spanish, which makes them relatively easy to learn: for example, frecuentemente (frequently), brevemente (briefly), ocasionalmente (occasionally), and annualmente (annually).
Spanish adverbs of quantity
Adverbs in this category answer the questions “How many?” and “To what degree?”. Common examples are muy (very), mucho (a lot), más (more), tanto (so much), demasiado (too much), and poco (little).
Some of these adverbs can also function as adjectives, which makes them hard to use properly at first. For instance, mucho is both an adjective and adverb.
Below are some example sentences — pay attention to the word’s ending and its position in the sentence to determine whether it’s acting as an adverb or adjective.
Spanish negative adverbs
Negative adverbs negate, undo, refuse, or deny whatever they modify. In Spanish, the word no (no, not) does the trick in most cases, but sometimes we need to include other negative words like nunca/jamás (never), ningún (no, not a single), and nadie (no one) in addition to the word no.
The presence of double negatives in Spanish is a major difference between standard English and Spanish, so it definitely takes some practice.
Spanish adverbial expressions
We already covered two kinds of adverbial expressions — the de manera and the de modo constructions — that translated somewhat clunkily into English. However, many common adverbial expressions use different constructions, and some of these don’t translate to English well at all.
Below is a short list of such adverbial expressions, their meanings, and their direct translations. These don’t follow predictable patterns, so they require a good amount of practice to memorize and use correctly.
More Spanish learning
Now that you have some familiarity with adverbs and how they work, it’s time to hone your knowledge and put it to the test! Practice using adverbs in casual conversation, make flashcards to drill tricky adverbs and adverbial expressions, and consider hiring an experienced Spanish tutor to guide you through the language-learning process.