The Challenges of Adverbs in Spanish Translation

There are two kinds of adverbs in Spanish translation. The first kind are single words that serve adverbial functions, for example, ‘anteayer´, ‘aquí´, ‘tampoco´, etc. The second kind is formed by adding the suffix ‘-mente´ to adjectives, for example, ‘claramente´, ‘atrozmente´, fácilmente´, etc.

An adverb is a word or a phrase or a clause that serves the function of:

  • defining or describing or qualifying a verb, or
  • modifying an adjective or
  • modifying a participle.

Forming Adverbs in Spanish Translation

While forming adverbs in Spanish Translation by adding the suffix ‘-mente´ it is important to remember that if two or more adverbs using ‘-mente´ are used in juxtaposition, then only the last adverb carries the suffix. For example, the Spanish translation of the English expression ‘John spoke calmly and deliberately´ should be ‘Juan habló tranquila y pausadamente´, and not ‘Juan habló tranquilamente y pausadamente´.

In Spanish, a prepositional phrase like ‘con + an abstract noun´ is frequently used instead of the ‘-mente´ form of the adverb. Hence, the Spanish translation for the English ‘ironically´ would be ‘con ironía and not ‘irónicamente´.

The English adverb ‘recently´ deserves special mention because its Spanish equivalent ‘recientemente´ would have to be shortened to ‘recién´ if it was being used before a past participle. The Spanish translation of the English adverb ‘only´ can take any of the following forms, namely, ‘sólo´, ‘solamente´ or ‘no más que´.

Things To Keep in Mind with Adverbs in Spanish Translation

It will be helpful for translators to keep in mind the following classifications of the Spanish adverb:

  • Adverbs of Place, for example, acá, allí, dentro, fuera, abajo and arriba.
  • Adverbs of Time, for example, hoy, mañana and ayer.
  • Adverbs of Manner, for example, como, bien, mal and despacio.
  • Adverbs of Quantity, for example, muy, poco and bastante.
  • Adverbs of Negation, for example, no, tampoco, nunca and nada.
  • Adverbs of Order, for example, antes, después and primero.
  • Adverbs of Doubt, for example, acaso, quizás and tal vez.
  • Adverbs of Affirmation, for example, si and como no.
  • Adverbs of Concession, for example, sin embargo.

Spanish translation of English sentences that describe the manner of carrying out an action, for example, ‘They were singing happily´ should avoid both the single word form and the ‘-mente´ form. The correct Spanish translation should use the expression ‘de una manera´ or ‘de un modo´ plus an adjective, as in ‘Cantaban de una manera feliz´.

Some adverbs in Spanish translation, like their English counterparts, work either as interrogative words or as introductions to exclamatory sentences. Translators need to keep in mind that the Spanish translation of English sentences using such words will require a different word order. For example, ‘what´s your name´ should be translated into ‘cómo se llama´.

In Spanish translation, the English ‘how´ + an adverb in a non-exclamatory sentence will not require the ‘como´ but the neuter article ‘lo´ + an adverb + que. For example, the English ‘He realized how well they were playing´ will be translated into Spanish as ‘Se dio cuenta de lo bien que tocaban´.

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