Adverbs in French grammar

What is an adverb?

Adverbs (les adverbes) are describing words: they can describe a verb, an adjective, a sentence or another adverb. They give us more information about time, place, frequency, reason or manner. French adverbs can consist of one word (demain, très, vite…tomorrow, very, quickly), groups of words (tout à coup, jusque-là…suddenly, until then) or words ending in -ment (simplement, heureusement…simply, luckily).

How to tell the difference between adjectives and adverbs

Although adjectives and adverbs are both types of describing words, they have different grammatical functions, meaning that they are not used in the same situations.

    • Adjectives describe nouns. They agree with the number and gender of the noun they modify.
      Example:
      Les souris sont heureuses et nous regardent en riant.The mice are happy and they are looking at us and smiling.
      How are the mice? – heureuses (happy)
    • Adverbs describe an adjective, a verb, another adverb or even an entire sentence. In contrast to adjectives, adverbs are invariable: they do not change their form to match the number and gender of the noun they are describing.
      Examples:
      Elles ont fait un très bon travail.They did a really good job.
      The adverb très describes the adjective bon.
      Elles ont bien travaillé.They worked well.
      The adverb bien describes the verb travailler.
      Elles on vraiment bien travaillé.They worked really well.
      The adverb vraiment describes the other adverb bien.
      Heureusement, elles ont bientôt fini.Luckily, they’re nearly finished.
      The adverb heureusement describes the whole sentence.

Bon vs. bien

Bon and bien are tricky words for learners of French to understand. Generally speaking, bon is mostly used as an adjective (similar to the English good) while bien is most commonly used as an adverb (similar to the English well). However, there are exceptions. Take a look at the following situations to learn when to use bon and when to use bien.

  • We use bon as an adjective to describe nouns (une bonne amie, un bon dessert…)
    Example:
    Les employés de cette société entretiennent de bonnes relations avec leur patron.The employees in this company have a good relationship with their boss.
  • Bon is only used as an adverb after specific verbs such as sentir bon, faire bon…
    Example:
    Il fait bon ce soir, allons donc nous promener.It’s nice weather tonight, let’s go for a walk.
  • In contrast, bien is mostly used as an adverb with verbs in the sense of “well” (j’ai bien travaillé…) or with adjectives in the sense of “very” or “really” (il est bien fatigué, cette maison est bien belle…)
    Example:
    Le repas était délicieux, nous avons bien mangé.The meal was delicious, we ate well!.
  • After the verb être, bon and bien can both be used as adjectives. But be aware, there is a difference in meaning:
    We use bon to talk about concrete things or to make sensory judgements relating to things like food, temperature etc.
    Example:
    Tu devrais venir te baigner, l’eau est vraiment bonne!You should come swimming, the water is really good!
    We use bien to talk about more abstract concepts or to make moral and intellectual judgements. We also use it in the phrase c’est bien de + infinitive (it’s good to…).
    Example:
    Ce film est vraiment bien, vous devriez aller le voir.This film is really good, you should go and see it.
    C’est bien d’aider ses amis.It’s good to help your friends.

Learn more about adverbs in French grammar

Click on the topics below to find out more about adverbs in French grammar. Learn about the different types of adverbs, how to form them, how to use them in comparisons and where to place them in a sentence. Once you’ve mastered these topics, put your knowledge to the test in the free interactive exercises.