(Use and categorization of German adverbs)

What are the particularities of German adverbs?

Adverbs (in German: Adverbien or Umstandswörter) are words that express the circumstances of a characteristic, process, or occurrence and define verbs, adjectives, participles, other adverbs, or complete sentences more precisely. In German, adverbs are written in lower case and cannot be declined or inflected – a few of them, however, are gradable and can be compared. German grammar distinguishes the following types:

  1. Local adverbs determine the circumstances of a place, destination, and direction:
    • da (there), dort (there), hier (here), dorthin (there), bergab (downhill), drinnen (inside), rechts (right), oben (up), abwärts (down), daneben (beside), herunter (down), etc.
      • Example: „Der Lichtschalter befindet sich rechts neben der Tür.“ (The light switch is located to the right of the door.)
    • They can be found and determined with the following checking questions:
      • „Wo?“ (Where?)
      • „Wohin?“ (Where to?)
      • „Woher?“ (Where from?)
        • „Woher kommt das Geräusch?“ → „Von draußen.“ (Where is the sound coming from? → From outside.)
  2. Temporal adverbs define the circumstances of time and duration:
    • morgen (tomorrow), bald (soon), nachmittags (in the afternoon), damals (back then), nachher (later), oft (often), vorher (before), lange (long), anfangs (in the beginning), selten (rarely), zuletzt (last), jetzt (now), etc.
      • Example: „Das können wir nachher noch erledigen.“ (We can do that later.)
    • Here, these checking questions are suitable for their determination:
      • „Wann?“ (When?)
      • „Wie oft?“ (How often?)
      • „Wie lange?“ (How long?)
        • „Wie lange möchtest du bleiben?“ → „Bis morgen.“ (How long do you want to stay? → Until tomorrow.)
  3. Modal adverbs determine the circumstances of the manner, degree, and extent:
    • vielleicht (perhaps), gerne (gladly), außerdem (besides, also), nicht (not), beinahe (almost), sehr (very), fast (almost), folgendermaßen (as follows), ebenso (likewise, the same way), irgendwie (somehow), etc.
      • Example: „Wir müssen außerdem noch Gemüse kaufen.“ (We also need to buy vegetables.)
    • The right checking question for their identification is:
      • „Wie?“ (How?)
      • „Wie sehr?“ (How much?)
      • „Womit?“ (What with?)
        • „Wie würde er es machen?“ → „Er würde es ebenso machen.“ (How would he do it? → He would do it the same way.)
  4. Causal adverbs determine the circumstances of reasons, consequences, causes, conditions, and intentions:
    • nämlich (namely), dennoch (yet), deshalb (because), trotzdem (nevertheless), sonst (otherwise), dazu (for it), andernfalls (otherwise), so (also), folglich (consequently), dadurch (thereby, by it), daher (therefore), also (so), etc.
      • Example: „Sie hat also deshalb nicht angerufen?“ (So because of that, she didn’t call?)
    • They can be found with the following question words:
      • „Warum?“ (Why?)
      • „Wozu?“ (What for?)
      • „Weshalb?“ (Why?)
        • „Warum kann Herr Meier nicht kommen?“ → „Er ist krank, darum kann er nicht kommen.“ (Why can’t Mr Meier come? → He is sick, so he cannot come.)
  5. Interrogative adverbs determine the circumstances under which something mentioned in the sentence occurs. This group includes almost all w question words:
    • wann (when), wo (where), wie (how), warum (why), inwieweit (in how far?), weshalb (why?), wozu (what for?), inwiefern (in how far?), wodurch (by what?), womit (with what?), etc.
      • Example: Wann kommt der Bus?“ (When does the bus arrive?)
      • Careful: ‘Wer?, Was?’ (Who?, What?) and ‘Welcher?, Welche?, Welches?’ (Which?) are interrogative pronouns.

Can adverbs be compared (have degrees of comparison)?

The majority of adverbs cannot be compared and so cannot have comparative and superlative forms. Note, however, that adjectives may also fulfil the function of adverbs. Then, they are subject to the usual comparison with the endings ‘-er’ and ‘-est’:

  • Example of a gradable adverb, meaning it can be compared. These do not follow the typical rule of comparison but have unique comparative and superlative forms:
    • „Ich komme ein bisschen eher, dann haben wir genug Zeit.“ (I’ll come a little earlier, then we’ll have enough time.)
      • Here, the adverb ‘bald’ (early) becomes ‘eher’ (earlier) as a particular comparative form.
  • Example of using a compared adjective as an adverb. The usual way of forming the degrees with ‘er/est’ takes place:
    • „Der neue Mitarbeiter arbeitet schneller als erwartet.“ (The new employee works faster than expected.)
      • schnellschneller (fast → faster)

How are adverbs formed?

In German grammar, it is partly possible to form adverbs from other parts of speech (word types) by simply adding suffixes. Compare the following possibilities:

  • Some adverbs can be derived from nouns. Such derivation requires the help of the following endings:
    • ‘-weise’:
      • „Als Ersatz können wir noch das alte Modell verwenden.“ (As a replacement, we can still use the old model.)
        • noun
      • Ersatzweise können wir noch das alte Modell verwenden.“ (As a replacement, we can still use the old model.)
        • Here, the original noun ‘Ersatz’ turns into the adverb ‘ersatzweise’.
    • ‘-s’:
      • „Am Abend macht das Grillen am meisten Spaß.“ (Evening is the most enjoyable time for barbecuing.)
        • noun
      • Abends macht das Grillen am meisten Spaß.“ (Evening is the most enjoyable time for barbecuing.)
        • The adverb ‘abends’ is formed by adding the suffix ‘s’.
  • Some other adjectives that can also become adverbs by appending the following ending:
    • ‘-erweise’:
      • „Es ist ein dummer Zufall.“ (It’s an unfortunate coincidence.)
        • adjective
      • Dummerweise habe ich nicht mehr daran gedacht.“ (Unfortunately, I didn’t think of it again.)
        • adverb

How are adverbs used?

As mentioned above, the usage and purpose of adverbs are to define or modify different parts of speech in a sentence. These parts, which an adverb refers to, are:

  • Nouns by attributive use (as an adverbial qualifier):
    • „Die Villa dort gehört meinem Chef.“ (The villa there belongs to my boss.)
    • „Der Unterrichtsraum oben ist zu klein.“ (The classroom upstairs is too small.)
  • Verbs by adverbial use (as an adverbial):
    • „Das Essen im Restaurant schmeckt gut.“ (The food in the restaurant tastes delicious.)
    • „Aber daheim schmeckt es besser.“ (But it tastes better at home.)
      • also possible in the comparative form
    • „Elke ging früh nach Hause.“ (Elke went home early.)
    • „Wir sind da.“ (We’re here.)
      • predicative use
  • Adjectives:
    • „Der sehr alte Baum im Garten wird bald absterben.“ (The very old tree in the garden will soon die.)
    • „Ein ebenso guter Rat wäre nichts zu tun.“ (Equally good advice would be to do nothing.)
  • Participles:
    • „Der gut vorbereitete Umzug klappte problemlos.“ (The well-prepared move went off without a hitch.)
      • adjectival adverb
    • „Dieser schnell fahrende Zug benötigt nur 30 Minuten bis zum Flughafen.“ (This fast train takes only 30 minutes to reach the airport.)
      • adjectival adverb
  • Other adverbs:
    • „Der neue Film war so langweilig.“ (The new film was so dull.)
    • „Das ging ja recht schnell.“ (That was pretty fast.)

Further explanations related to ‘German adverbs’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Formation and use of adverbs in German grammar’ and may be helpful too: