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Adverbs in Vietnamese

Adverbs in Vietnamese 1

This lesson introduces you to the most common usages of Vietnamese adverbs. As their primary role is to modify verbs and adjectives, this lesson on adverbs builds upon the knowledge of Vietnamese verbs and adjectives presented in previous lessons. It helps a lot if you read this lesson only after going through those lessons.

Adverbs in Vietnamese 1

Position of Vietnamese adverbs

We’ll begin with 2 examples to demonstrate that the use of adverbs in Vietnamese is very similar to its English use.

Example:

 She   sings  well
 Cô ?y   hát  hay
 I want to learn   Vietnamese  fast
 Tôi mu?n h?c   ti?ng Vi?t  nhanh

As you can observe, the positions of the adverbs hay(“well”) and nhanh(“fast”) are exactly the same as their English counterparts. In the first example, the adverb is positioned immediately after the verb hát(“sing”) as this verb requires no object. In the second example, as the verb h?c(“learn”) does take an object, which is ti?ng Vi?t (“Vietnamese”), the adverb is put after the object, as in English.

The above adverbs are normally called “adverbs of manner” in that they add meaning in the aspect of “manner” to verbs they modify. There is another frequently-used group of adverbs known as “adverbs of frequency”, which include adverbs such as often, frequently and sometimes. In English, the rule of thumb is that they are positioned after to be and before other verbs. However, some of these adverbs such as sometimes can be liberally positioned in front or at the end of the sentence.

The exact same thing happens for the case of Vietnamese. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:

Example:

Cô ?y th??ng th?c d?y s?m
She usually gets up early
Th?nh tho?ng, tôi th?c d?y s?m
Sometimes, I get up early
Tôi th?nh tho?ng th?c d?y s?m
I sometimes get up early

So many similarities, you must think! Indeed, that’s also the case with “adverbs of intensity” such as very, really. Let’s consider the following examples where they are used to modify adverbs and adjectives:

Example:

Cô ?y th?c d?y r?t s?m
She gets up very early

 

Cô ?y có m?t d?ng hát r?t hay
She has a voice very beautiful

In the first example, r?t(“very”) precedes s?m(“early”) in exactly the way we would use in English. In the second example, the adverb very is used to modify the adjective beautiful and should therefore be thought of as “attached” to the adjective. In other words, very beautiful voice is interpreted as consisting of the adjective phrase very beautiful modifying the noun voice. As such, it comes as no surprise that in Vietnamese, the translation order would be “voice” + “very beautiful”, which yields “d?ng hát” + “r?t hay”. In both cases, very is positioned before the the adjective or adverb it modifies, as in English.

Vietnamese Muti-word adverbs

Everything on adverbs has been very familiar so far. And that’s indeed the general case. Before we end this lesson, let’s walk through one example where there is a small difference in the position of adverbs between Vietnamese and English.

Consider the adverb incredible in She sings incredibly well and very in She sings very well. The two sentences are completely similar except for the choice of adverbs. The two sentences, therefore, share the exact same structure as expected. However, compare their Vietnamese translations below:

Example:

Cô ?y hát r?t hay
She sings very well
Cô ?y hát hay không th? tin ???c
She sings well incredibly

As indicated above the phrase không th? tin ???c is the Vietnamese translation of incredibly. According to what we’ve learned above, incredibly well should translate into the order: “incredibly” + “well”, which should have produced “không th? tin ???c” + “hay”. Why the reverse here? Is this an exception?

The answer is yes, it’s an exception in that it doesn’t follow our general rule. Fortunately, this is not the type of exception that you should just learn by heart because there is a plausible explanation behind.

We know that translation of incredibly is không th? tin ???c whose word-by-word translation back to English is can’t believe or impossible to believe. The fact that the Vietnamese translation of incredibly is a phrase, not a word, is because the Vietnamese translation of the adjective “credible” is already a multi-word adjective: có th? tin ???c. There is no one-word adjective that means “credible” in Vietnamese. (Why? Please refer to Notes (*) below for further discussion).

Now, if we look back at English and think about how we would use a multi-word phrase such as to the extent that I can’t believe it to express incredibly. Do we still put the phrases in the position of credibly to produce She sings, to the extent that I can’t believe it, well or do we need to move this lengthy phrase to the end of the sentence? Suppose that we use another phrase: I can’t believe that, can we put it in the position of credibly or do we have to put it in front? The same reason why không th? tin ???c is put after hay(“well”): it appears to be a matter of pragmatics.

Summary

It’s simple: When it comes to adverbs in Vietnamese, just use them how you normally do in English. The one caution is for Vietnamese multi-word adverbs, which are usually placed after the word(s) they modify.

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