Position of adverbs in French

What’s the general rule?

Adverbs (les adverbes) usually come after the verb they are describing when it is conjugated in a simple (non-compound) tense. Of course, this is just a general rule, there are some exceptions we need to be aware of.

Learn to position French adverbs correctly with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Hier, Annabelle est allée dans un magasin de sport pour acheter une raquette de tennis. Il y avait réellement beaucoup de choix et comme elle n'y connaissait pas vraiment grand chose, elle a demandé conseil au vendeur.

Le vendeur proposa de lui montrer tranquillement plusieurs modèles. Annabelle pensait qu'il serait sûrement facile de choisir. Elle préférerait certainement une raquette à une autre. Mais au départ elle n'arrivait pas à se décider. Finalement, elle a bien testé une raquette. Elle avait assez fait de tests et l'acheta.

Avec ses amis, ils pourront jouer ensemble.

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Where to place the adverb in French

As stated above, the general rule is that French adverbs come directly after the verb that they are describing, however there are a few special cases that we also need to keep in mind:

  • When the verb is conjugated in a compound tense, shorter adverbs (bien, mal, …), adverbs of manner and amount (beaucoup, trop, assez, …) and certain indefinite adverbs of time (souvent, toujours, trop, quelque fois, …) are placed before the participe passé.
    Example:
    Elle a bien testé une raquette.She tested a racquet well.
  • Adverbs that refer to an entire sentence usually come at the very beginning or at the end of the sentence in question, and only very rarely in the middle.
    Examples:
    Hier, elle est allée dans un magasin de sport.Yesterday she went to a sport supply shop.
    Elle est allée dans un magasin de sport hier.
    (rarely: Elle est allée hier dans un magasin de sport.)
  • When an adverb is placed before the verb in a declarative sentence, we usually put this adverb after the second part of the negation (pas) in negative sentences. Exceptions are : certainement, généralement, peut-être, probablement, sans doute.
    Examples:
    Elle a bien testé la raquette.She tested the racquet well.
    → Elle n’a pas bien testé la raquette.She didn’t test the racquet well.
    Elle a probablement testé la raquette.She probably tested the racquet.
    → Elle n’a probablement pas testé la raquette.She probably didn’t test the racquet.
    Watch out! The adverb vraiment can be placed before or after the second part of the negation, however, the meaning of the sentence changes.
    Examples:
    Elle n’y connaissait pas vraiment grand chose. → She didn’t understand much about it.
    Elle n’y connaissait vraiment pas grand chose. → She didn’t understand anything about it.
  • Adverbs that describe an infinitive come after the infinitive.
    Example:
    Le vendeur proposa de lui montrer tranquillement plusieurs modèles.The salesman offered to take his time showing her various models.
  • Adverbs that refer to adjectives or to other adverbs are placed before the adjective or adverb in question.
    Example:
    Il y avait réellement beaucoup de choix.The selection was really quite large.
  • Ensemble always comes after the verb to which it refers.
    Example:
    Ils jouent ensemble au tennis.They play tennis together.
    Ensemble is referring to jouer here.
  • Sûrement and certainement are never placed at the beginning of a sentence.
    Examples:
    Il serait sûrement facile de choisir.It would surely be easy to choose.
    Sûrement il serait facile de choisir.
    Elle préférerait certainement une raquette.She would certainly prefer one racquet.
    Certainement elle préférerait une raquette.