This month we are going to look at how to say ‘–ly’ in Spanish, as in ‘happy – happily’, ‘quiet – quietly’, ‘fortunate – fortunately’ and so on. When we add ‘-ly’ to words we are, in grammatical terms, changing adjectives to adverbs. There are all kinds of adverbs in English and Spanish with lots of different uses, but we are going to stick to one kind, which are often called ‘adverbs of manner’. In other words they describe ‘how’ things are done. To put it another way, they describe verbs or actions, unlike adjectives which describe things, or nouns.
As ever we’d better make this clear with a nice simple example: ‘the happy girl’.
‘Girl’ is a noun, referring to a person, and ‘happy’ is an adjective describing the girl. Now we’ll say ‘The girl sang happily.’ We have added an ‘-ly’ ending to the adjective ‘happy’ to form ‘happily’ and in so doing we are now describing the manner in which something was done, or you could say we are describing the verb ‘sang’.
How did she sing? She sang happily – using an adverb of manner.
In the vast majority of cases in Spanish this ‘-ly’ ending is expressed with ‘-mente’.
Let’s take our example: ‘happy’ is ‘feliz’ and ‘happily’ is ‘felizmente’, so our two sentences in Spanish are ‘la niña feliz’. ‘La niña cantó felizmente’.
There are one or two simple rules about how this ending fits on to different types of adjectives:
If the adjective ends in ‘o’ in the masculine and therefore changes to ‘a’ in the feminine, which is true of a very large number of adjectives, the “-mente” ending tacks on to the feminine form of the adjective. In other words the ending becomes ‘-amente’.
For example ‘tranquilo’ meaning ‘calm’:
Mi padre es muy tranquilo.
My father is very calm.
He works calmly.
Likewise ‘abierto’ meaning ‘open’:
Es un señor muy abierto.
He is a very outgoing man.
Siempre habla de sus problemas abiertamente.
He always talks about his problems openly.
Not all adjectives become adverbs automatically (notice in English that we also have the ending ‘– ally’ – automatic – automatically). In fact there are many adjectives which describe appearance, or have some other meaning, but cannot be changed to describe manner. For example: ‘guapo’ (handsome). In English we do have the word ‘handsomely’, but it has a different meaning. We don’t usually say a person does anything ‘handsomely’, although we can talk about being ‘paid handsomely’. In Spanish this certainly is NOT ‘guapamente’, which I’m quite sure does not exist! We could translate this with ‘generosamente’ (generously) though, which is what the word really means in this context.
What happens with adjectives that do not end in ‘o’ or ‘a’? They just add the ‘-mente’ ending as we saw before with ‘felizmente’. This also applies if they end in a different vowel, for example: ‘enorme’ (enormous) becomes ‘enormemente’ (enormously) keeping the ‘e’. It is a subtle, but common, mistake amongst foreign speakers of Spanish to say incorrectly ‘enormAmente’ instead of the correct ‘enormEmente’. Of course this only matters if the foreign speaker concerned pronounces his or her vowels clearly in the first place!
Bueno, pues nada. Agradezco vuestra atención enormemente.
I appreciate your attention enormously.
Don’t we say strange things to each other sometimes!
See you next month.
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at
www.janecronin.eu where you can alsoobtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet