Wednesday, September 4, 2019


In grammar, adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. For example: to speak quickly, to be very fast, and to run very quickly have the adverbs "very" and "quickly."

In Japanese, "adverbs," fukushi 副詞, do exactly the same thing, except that Japanese adverbs are a bit different from English adverbs..


Syntactically, there are a few different types of adverbs in Japanese.
  • Lexical adverbs.
    The word by itself is an adverb.
    Example: sukoshi 少し, "a few."
  • ni-adverbs.
    The word takes the ni に particle to become an adverb.
    Usually these are na-adjective conjugated to the adverbial form.
    Example: hontou ni 本当に, "really."
  • ku-adverbs.
    These are i-adjectives conjugated to the adverbial form.
    Example: hayaku 速く, "quickly."
  • to-adverbs.
    These are adverbs that receive the to と particle.
    Example: shikkari to しっかりと, "firmly," "properly."
    Some of them are taru-adjectives.
    Example: doudou to 堂々と, "in dignified manner."

Some adverbs are mimetic words, specially phenomimes like guruguru ぐるぐる, "swirling," and psychomimes like wakuwaku わくわく, "excitedly."

The de で particle sometimes creates adverb-like phrases, like hitori de 一人で, "by one person," "by oneself, "alone."

The kosoado words kou, sou, aa, dou こう, そう, ああ, どう are adverbial pronouns.


In Japanese, the adverb normally comes before the verb, even in situations where in English it would end up after after the verb. For example:
  • hayai 速い
  • Tarou wa hayaku hashitta
    Tarou fast-ly ran.
    Tarou ran fast.
    Tarou ran quickly.
    Tarou quickly ran.
  • *Tarou wa hashitta hayaku
    (grammatically wrong. Can happen in very unusual cases like if the speaker says "he ran," and then, after a pause, modifies with "fast.")

Word order in Japanese is relatively free. The adverb can normally occur at various positions in a clause. The only restriction is that, like above, the adverb doesn't normally come after the verb.(Miyara, 1982, pp. 527-528)
  • Tarou wa jouzu ni Eigo wo hanasu
    Tarou speaks English well.
  • Tarou wa Eigo wo jouzu ni hanasu
    (same meaning.)
  • jouzu ni Tarou wa Eigo wo hanasu
    (same meaning.)

The same applies to other types of adverbs, like mimetic adverbs.(Toratani, 2007, p.320)
  • Tarou wa to wo batan to shimeta
    Tarou closed the door with a thud.
  • Tarou wa batan to to wo shimeta
    (same meaning.)
  • batan to Tarou wa to wo shimeta
    (same meaning.)

Adverbs can also modify adjectives and other adverbs.
  • Tarou wa sugoi
    Tarou is incredible.
  • Tarou wa sugoku hayai
    Tarou is incredibly fast.
  • Tarou wa sugoku hayaku hashiru
    Tarou runs incredibly quickly.

Beware that, with the adverbial form of i-adjectives like above, adding a ~te changes it to the te-form ~kute instead, which isn't an adverb, and translates to "and."
  • Tarou wa sugokute hayaku hashiru
    Tarou is incredible and runs quickly.

Also beware that the negative form resembles using the adverbial form to modify the i-adjective nai ない.
  • Tarou wa sugoku nai
    Tarou wa sugokunai
    Tarou isn't incredible.

With ni-adverbs, it works basically the same way:
  • Hanako wa kirei da
    Hanako is pretty.
  • Hanako wa kirei ni odoru
    Hanako dances pretty-ly.
  • Hanako wa zettai ni kirei da
    Hanako is absolutely pretty.
  • Hanako wa zettai ni kirei ni odoru
    Hanako dances absolutely pretty-ly.

Of course, mixing the types of adverbs is also possible: sugoku kirei, zettai ni hayai, and so on.
  • tabun pikapika to tsune ni utsukushiku kagayaku
    Probably, sparkling-ly, constantly, beautifully shines.
    It probably shines beautifully with sparkles all the time.

Some adverbs translate to the same thing in English but have different nuances. For example:
  • mattaku zenzen wakaranai
    Really, at all, isn't understood.
    [I] don't understand [it] at all
    • mattaku - used with negative sentences, when something really "doesn't" work, no matter what you do. Sometimes translated as "good grief" instead.
  • hontou ni sonna ni mazui?
    Really, that much, is bad?
    Is [it] really that much bad?
    • hontou - whether something is telling the truth, honestly, as opposed to joking or exaggerating.
  • jitsu ni subarashii
    Really marvelous.
    • jitsu - real, truth. Used when someone is emphasizing they saying an absolute reality, as opposed to simply stating their true intentions.
  • sore maji de yatta no?
    Did [you] really do that?
    • Words that refer to the actor's volition, maji, shinken 真剣, "earnest," etc. take the de で particle to mark how they feel while doing something.
    • In this example, the slang maji refers to whether they're saying it "for real" that they did that, or they're just joking about having done it.

The unaccusative-causative pair naru なる, "to become," and suru する, "to make become," can take adverbs when the subject is becoming in such way that the adverb ends up applying to them.
  • Hanako wa kirei ni naru
    Hanako will become pretty.
  • Hanako wa kawaiku naru
    Hanako will become cute.
  • kuruma wo hayaku suru
    To make a car fast.
  • shizuka ni shinasai
    Become quiet.
    Silence. Shut up.


In Japanese, sometimes an adverb isn't a mere word but a complicated construction.

The sou そう suffix, which attaches to verbs and adjectives, is conjugated like a na-adjective and, as such, can be used as a ni-adverb:
  • oishii
    Tasty. Delicious.
  • kono keeki wa oishi-sou da
    This cake is delicious-seeming.
    This cake seems delicious.
  • kono keeki wo oishi-sou ni taberu
    To eat this cake in a delicious-seeming way.
    To eat this cake in such way it looks like the cake is delicious. (probably because it is, indeed, delicious.)
  • nemuri-sou ni naru
    To become in such way it looks like [you'll] sleep.

The word you よう is a light noun which is practically always qualified by an adjective or relative clause. It's essentially used to say how something looks, seems, or acts.
  • inu no you da
    It seems it's a dog.
  • inu no you ni wan to naku
    Like a dog, to bark "woof."
    • Here, "like a dog," is the manner in which the barking action is done.


Adverbs can turned into the topic of the sentence by adding the wa は particle after them. For example:
  • chotto matte kudasai
    Please wait a bit.
  • chotto wa matta
    A bit, [I've] waited.

This can have the contrastive wa function.
  • kirei ni wa naru
    Pretty, [you'll] become.
    • Implicature: you won't become something besides pretty, you won't be famous, or popular, or rich, for example.
  • kawaiku wa naru
    Cute, [you'll] become.
    • Implicature: basically the same as above.

As always, anything that can be topicalized by wa は can also be included by mo も.
  • otona-pooku mo kawaiku mo naru
    More adult-like, and more cute, [you'll] become.
    • otona-ppoi - resembling an adult, looking like an adult, as opposed to looking like a child.
    • This could refer to a way "to become cuter and, also, to look more mature," for example.


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