Placement of ‘bien’

Elle devra bien s’entendre avec son professeur.

The above sentence translates to “She’ll have to get along well with her professor”.

I understand that “bien” describes the action of “getting along well with”. Why is it not placed after “s’entendre” (as in adverb follows the verb that it is describing)?

The sentence “Elle devra s’entendre bien avec son professeur” is rejected.

Please help me to understand this. Thank you.

March 13, 2019


As a native speaker, I can't say anything else except that "Elle devra s'entendre bien" sounds weird to my ears. I've tried to found any grammatical explanations in french dictionnaries, without any result. Thinking mentally about different patterns, my feeling is:

  • With devoir/falloir/pouvoir etc + infinitive verb, bien has to be in the middle;

  • In other case, bien has to be after the verb.

(which match the other explanations on this thread)

Note that if "elle devra s'entendre bien avec" only sounds weird to me, "elle bien s'entend avec" is wrong. "Elle s'entend bien avec" is correct.

To end with that case, to think about "bien" is particulary hard considering all the meanings it could have. "Well" is only the most frequent: my explanations was assuming it was your understanding but it could also have been understood as some kind of "fatality-describing" word in this context.

"Elle devra bien s'entendre avec son professeur parce que, quoi qu'elle en pense, se sera toujours lui qui aura le dernier mot". (and in this case, the sentence only make sense if bien is after devoir, as the word is directly linked to it! ...).

If I finally manage to found any grammatical explanation, I will come back to you.

March 14, 2019

I see sentences like this often "il doit bien revenir..." (he must return...) and I think that bien modifies doit.

The idea is that bien is "well." You're well ahead of me. He better well return. She is well past forty.

In that case, she must get on with her professor. (She better damned well get along with her professor, is how we might phrase it colloquially. and the word "well" modifies "better" in that case.) Similarly, in your sentence "bien" modifies "devra" (It might help to think of bien as "certainly" in that sentence: she must certainly get along with her professor.)

I think it works the same way as in English. We have a bit more flexibility with adverb placement, but for example if I say, "I should really go now" the really modifies "should" and not "go." so you could also say "I really should go now" but you would not say "I should go really now."

March 13, 2019

s'entendre means get along well. It's modifying devoir I believe.

March 13, 2019

Thank you both for your replies. I just had an aha moment! Feel quite silly now for asking such question!

March 14, 2019

a veritable epiphany! c'est très bien :)

I was thinking about this a bit more as well. It seems that the English word "well" is very versatile. The same can be said of the french word "bien". It can intensify a situation: "He better be ready." Compare that to "He better well be ready." (similar sentences can be constructed in French)

But it can also ameliorate a situation. "I like Paul." (this means, I am really into Paul.) "I like Paul, well enough." (Friendzone. Adding well seems to take it down a notch.) Similarly, "J'aime Paul" means "I'm really into Paul." Compare that to "J'aime bien Paul" ("He's okay, for a friend.")

It can also just be a filler. When someone asks a question and we have to think about it, we sometimes say, "well, ..." I've noticed, watching French news, that they sometimes say "bien, ..."

The more I think about it, the more I think that the french word bien functions much like our own word well. Of course there are times when "really" or "certainly" or "enough" might be better translations for "bien", just as there are times when "assez" or "suffisamment" or "vraiment" might be better translations for "well" but for the most part, I think that they work the same way.

Bon courage.

March 15, 2019

they way I learned it is that where you have a modal verb eg devoir/pouvoir/vouloir or a compound tense where you use avoir/être, the adverb generally follows the conjugated verb & not the infinitve. eg:

Il doit souvent faire la cuisine.

Nous avons bien mangé.

as for why it's like this, your guess is as good as mine. ;)

March 15, 2019

I understand it this way too. Short adverb follows the conjugated or auxiliary verb.

March 15, 2019

I don't think it's a silly question at all. Recently I found myself staring at this:

"Il pensait bien faire"

And thinking: isn't "bien" supposed to come after the verb?. We'll I know now that that "rule" is no rule at all. You don't need to cast around much to find adverbs at the beginning of sentences. For example I just noticed a post on ice cream here on the forum that began with "Personnellement". And you can find other examples. So, not so much a "rule", more of an "aide mémoire" for us new students.

So a quick explanation of what I've come to understand in the last couple of weeks. Here is an example from a book:

"Les enfants se sont bien amusés" - It translates as "the children thoroughly enjoyed themselves"

In this example the reflexive verb "s'amuser" is conjugated passé compé with "être". So the verbal phrase is "se sont amusés" which I'm reading as "enjoyed themselves". I was also thinking you wouldn't split that... But hang on...

I now see that the practice in this (and many other similar examples) is to place the adverb after the auxilliary verb (être) and before the main verb participle (amusés). I'm not asking "why" I'm just identifying what seems to be good practice. So...

"... se sont bien amusés"

I think the same is true for my opening example: "Il pensait bien faire".

And for your example: "Elle devra bien s’entendre avec son professeur".

If you see "pensait faire" and "devra s'entendre" each as a verbal phrase, then the same good practice would apply. Put the adverb at the heart of the phrase.

Then I looked around for other examples. And found this

"j'en ai vaguement entendu parler". (I did vaguely hear something (to say) about it") . You can see, a composite verbal phrase. Passé composé conjugation with the adverb between the auxilliary and main verbs and what I suppose is called a predicated verb.

So I inserted "bien" and last night showed the written phrase to a french speaker (maternelle). "Parfait" they said. So I pressed them on the position of "bien"; did it qualify "parler" and they said, "it's all good".

Here's my sentence, as approved:

"j'en ai vaguement bien entendu parler"

Of course we already know about simple constructions such as:

"J'entends bien"

So my working theory is this: that when an adverb is not interrogative, or otherwise placed at the beginning of a sentence:

(1) in simple verbal phrases it will follow immediately after the main verb.

(2) in passé composé tense conjugations it will follow immediately after the auxilliary verb (etre or avoir), irrespective of the complexity of the verbal phrase.

(3) In complex verbal phrases it will follow immediately after the main verb, even when (to English speaking senses) it appears to be qualifying a verb that forms part of the predicate.

In this last case, it's almost like you are setting up the mood (bad word to use), tone, or "evaluation" of the action before you report it.

(4) Addendum: (Thanks to A26_ below). Long adverbs often get put at the end. Here is a passé composé example: "j'ai mangé tranquillement"

Like Angus, I'll willingly defer to a native speaker.

March 15, 2019

Hello DavidMarsh,

I didn't get what you mean by: "j'en ai vaguement bien entendu parlé". It surprises me a bit that someone told you it's a well constructed sentence.

Otherwise, there are examples where the adverb is placed after the verb in passé composé as in: "j'ai mangé tranquillement"... I begin to wonder if there is really a rule, or if everything is nothing but experience. So hard.

March 15, 2019

Hiya A26_

I didn't get what you mean by...

Oh I thought I took that from a book.... And I thought it meant something like the English "I did, vaguely, hear something about it.". I'll have to look at my notes to see where I found it.

"j'ai mangé tranquillement"

Yes, I now recall reading something that said long adverbs often get spoken at the end, (I had forgotten), I think they gave the example of "malheureusement".

Which leads me to wonder... I find the French can be very expressive in their use of language, a bit like the Irish when they speak English. Words are moved around (1) to change emphasis and (2) because it's kind of lyrical to say it that way.

Adverbs certainly lend themselves to that... so much so that one famous writer in English wrote "adverbs are not your friend"... forgotten who now... but the point made is that it's easy to over-use, them and trip over them.

I'll check out: "j'en ai vaguement entendu parler", I'm certain I took it from a respectable source. I simply used it to test if I was inserting "bien" in the right place, if I wanted to modify "parler"...

March 15, 2019

"j'en ai vaguement entendu parler" is perfectly French and means what you said, "j'en ai bien entendu parler" is french too (and is different than "J'en ai entendu parler en bien") however it's "j'en ai vaguement bien entendu parler" (using two adverbs with an opposite meaning) that I didn't get. Maybe what you were thinking in English could help me?

Concerning your explanations about emphasis, it could definitely be the case, yes! Sometimes we're changing the adverb place only to create a "chock" in the listeners mind, which will catch attention and put an emphasis on the adverb.

March 15, 2019

Thinking about it once again, I now realise I got it... Changing the adverbs order (even if it's still a little bit counter-intuitive, hard to get without any context). If I understood well, I guess you could have use it like this: "

  • L'information a été transmise la semaine passée mais a été très mal communiquée. As-tu été mis au courant ?

  • J'en ai bien vaguement entendu parler mais il me manque des éléments".

Language could be so strange sometimes!

March 15, 2019

Long adverbs are usually at the beginning or the end of a sentence, but as usual, there’s always an exception. There are some basic rules about placement of French adverbs. Not the easiest thing to recall in the midst of figuring out tenses, placement of negation etc.

I have difficulty trying to remember placement of negation words for all the different tenses and sentence structures. Any tricks to this, besides “practise, practise and practise... and more practise”?

March 15, 2019
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