The Problems and Advantages of English Adverbs

English is a very adverb-intensive language. Adverbs are words that connect with verbs to tell “how” something is being done.  For example:

  • John speaks English badly
  • En John parla anglès malament / John habla mal el ingles

Of course Spanish and Catalan do the same, but one of the characteristics of English is that it is often necessary to include an adverb in order to clarify an action.  For example:

  • En John va puja / John subió
  • John went up

There is an English verb for pujar/subir.  It is “to rise,” but it sounds very formal, and it is much more common to use “to go up,” and often the meaning is different.  For example, the English sentence “John rose” would be translated more accurately as En John es va aixecar/John se levantó.

This causes a lot of problems for students, who confuse a verb/adverb construction with a phrasal verb.  This is especially true because adverbs sometimes change their meanings.  “Up,” for example, means amunt/arriba with verbs of movement.  However with other verbs, “up,” has a meaning closer to “completely.”  For example: “to finish up” means to finish everything that you have to do in the same way that “to eat up” means to eat everything.  AND sometimes the meaning can be different.  For example:

  • The shop closed up last year
  • La botiga es va tancar per sempre l’any passat / La tienda cerró para siempre el año pasado

Even though this linguistic characteristic is a little complicated at first, it also has an advantage.  You can easily give more information about how the subject performed the action in English simply by changing the verb.  For example:

  • John walked up the street
  • En John va pujar caminant pel carrer / John subió caminando por la calle
  • John ran up the street
  • En John va pujar corrent pel carrer / John subió corriendo por la calle
  • John jumped up the street
  • En John va pujar saltant pel carrer / John subió saltando por la calle

All languages seem difficult and complicated, but when you understand how a language works and compare it to your own mother tongue, it always becomes easier!

Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School

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