あまり in a Grammatical Sense
While studying Japanese today, I found myself having a bit of trouble with the usage of "あまり". Which of these sentences would be correct?
Let me begin with a general explanation. The word あまり in the above sentences is an adverb. When used with negation, namely あまり〜ない, it means "few, not a lot, seldom, not so often".
The above sentences 1 and 2 are equally correct. Those mean "I do not email to my friends so often". While the sentence 1 may occasionally suggest "I email to other people than my friends" and the sentence 2 may suggest "I prefer other communicative means to email to my friends". Because the word 友達 follows あまり in the sentence 1 and メール follows あまり in the sentence 2.
The word order is not so strict. You can even say:
3) あまり私は友達にメールをしません, and
(My mother tongue is Japanese)
I'm not 100% sure on this, but I feel like both work. Japanese doesn't seem to be very strict on sentence orders other than the verb having to be at the end, and most other order "rules" are more tradition than strict requirement.
It might be helpful to mention another descriptive word: とても. Totemo and amari are both used to describe the extent of something. For a positive sentence, you would use とても ("to a high degree" - often, a lot, very, extremely) and for a negative sentence, you would use あまり ("to a low degree" - seldom, few, not very, not extremely).
このすしはとてもおいしい。 (kono sushi wa totemo oishii.)
"This sushi is very tasty"
その本はあまり面白くない (sono hon wa amari omoshirokunai)
"That book is not very interesting."
犬はとても大きい (inu wa totemo ookii)
"The dog is very big."
猫はあまり大きくない (neko wa amari ookikunai)
"The cat is not very big."
Both words can get translated as "very" but the usage is different. You rarely see とても in a negative sentence and you rarely see あまり in a positive sentence structure.
The placement of both words is important, but also quite (とても！) flexible. Like with adjectives/adverbs in English these words add description to an adjacent word. The word that comes after the descriptive word takes the meaning, so you want to choose where you place the word based on which part of the sentence you want to emphasize.
あまり友達に - acts as an adjective to modify the noun "friends"
あまりメールをしません。- acts as an adverb to modify the verb "doing email"
あまり大きくない - acts as an adverb to modify another adjective "big"
In each case, あまり describes the (negative) extent of the word it modifies and means that it is extreme in a negative fashion (very low, very infrequent, very unlikely, not much). The negation comes from the verb itself, not directly from あまり.