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.

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 ấy hát hay
 
I want to learn Vietnamese fast
Tôi muốn học tiếng Việt 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 học("learn") does take an object, which is tiếng Việt("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 ấy thường thức dậy sớm
She usually gets up early
 
Thỉnh thoảng, tôi thức dậy sớm
Sometimes, I get up early
Tôi thỉnh thoảng thức dậy sớm
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 ấy thức dậy rất sớm
She gets up very early
 
Cô ấy có một dọng hát rất hay
She has a voice very beautiful

In the first example, rất("very") precedes sớm("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 "dọng hát" + "rất 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 ấy hát rất hay
She sings very well
 
Cô ấy hát hay không thể tin được
She sings well incredibly

As indicated above the phrase không thể tin được 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 thể tin được" + "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 thể tin được 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 thể tin được. 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 thể tin được 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.

Notes

(*) For the curious learners who wants further explanations of why there is no one-word adjective in Vietnamese that means credible, the reason is possibly due to the fact that Vietnamese (and Chinese is another example) can be thought of as "compositional" in meaning. In other words, there usually isn't a new word for a meaning that could have been expressed by combining meanings of existing words. In our example, the "existing word" is probably the verb tin("believe"). The phrase "incredible" is then expressed by way of "impossible to believe", which yields the multi-word translation không thể tin được.