TNs, U63: Adverbs 3 (Placement, Confusing Words: Actuellement/Effectivement/Définitivement, Ne… que)

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In a compound tense like the passé composé, adverbs normally come between the auxiliary verb and its participle.

  • J'ai rapidement fini mon travail. — I finished my work quickly.
  • Ils ont trop mangé. — They ate too much.

Unlike English, adverbs in French never come between the subject and the verb. Instead they usually follow the conjugated verb that they modify.

We often read in the evening. — Nous lisons souvent le soir.

Time adverbs (aujourd’hui, hier, demain, etc.) can come at the the beginning or the end of a sentence.

  • Aujourd’hui, elles vont construire un robot. — Today, they are going to build a robot.
  • Ils sont partis hier. — They left yesterday.

It’s important to keep in mind that time adverbs cannot stand alone as a subject.

Correct: Aujourd’hui, c’est son anniversaire. — Today is her birthday.
Incorrect: Aujourd’hui est son anniversaire.

Place adverbs (ici, là-bas, partout, etc.) typically come after the direct object they modify.

  • Il a mis son violon ici. — He put his violin here.
  • Il y a de l’eau partout ! — There’s water everywhere!

Confusing Words

Be careful about the faux amis that appear in this unit. Many of them look like English adverbs with a different ending, but they may have an entirely different meaning.


The French adverb actuellement means "currently" or "at the moment", not "actually".

  • Il est actuellement fermé. — It is currently closed.
  • Mon mari est sans emploi actuellement. — My husband is unemployed currently.

To translate "actually", use en fait ("in fact") or en réalité ("in reality"). This conveys the notion that the rest of the sentence should be surprising to the listener.

  • Nous lisons très rarement, en fait. — We read very rarely, actually.
  • En réalité, il va en Amérique. — Actually, he is going to America.

Alternatively, effectivement or réellement can translate as "actually", but these are more confirmatory than contradictory in tone.

  • Effectivement, ton gâteau est très bon. — Indeed, your cake is very good.
  • Cet animal existe réellement. — That animal does really exist.


Effectivement is also misleading because it means "really" or "indeed". To say "effectively" or "efficiently", use efficacement.

  • On n'utilise pas cet outil efficacement. — We aren't using this tool effectively.
  • Vous pouvez apprendre plus efficacement avec Duolingo. — You can learn more efficiently with Duolingo.


There is a difference between the adverbs "definitively" and "definitely". Most commonly, "definitively" describes a conclusive ending or final resolution. The French adverb définitivement also carries this meaning.

  • Elle part définitivement. — She is leaving for good.
  • Ils ont conclu définitivement la négociation. — They concluded the negotiation definitively.

"Definitively" and définitivement can also describe an authoritative action.

  • Le juge détermine définitivement le verdict. — The judge determined the verdict definitively.
  • Ce livre donne définitivement la réponse. — That book definitively gives the answer.

Conversely, "definitely" is used for conditions that are true beyond a doubt. For this, use certainement or a close synonym, like absolument or sûrement.

  • Elle est certainement française. — She is definitely French.
  • Oui, j'en suis sûr, absolument. — Yes, I am sure, definitely.

With the meaning of “beyond any doubt”, the French also use sans aucun doute, indubitablement, incontestablement, indéniablement. However, sans doute does not mean “without a doubt” but “probably”.

Ne… que

The adverb ne is a limitation but not a negation when combined with the conjunction que. Instead ne… que means “only”, as an alternative to seulement. Since it is not negative, the indefinite article is not altered in front of the direct object.

  • Je n’ai que des tomates pour la sauce. — I only have tomates for the sauce.
  • Soyez patient ! Il n’a que quatre ans. — Be patient! He’s only four years old.

  • Je regrette de n’avoir qu’une seule vie à perdre pour mon pays. — I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country. (Nathan Hale)

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