German Adverbs of Time and Frequency


Adverbs are words which describe verbs, and they generally follow the verb. They add to the overall meaning of a sentence. Adverbs are not declined. Adverbs are often combined with prepositions, which refer either to the dative or the accusative object. Let's look at some of the "temporal" adverbs (adverbs describing time).

  • Time: abends, heute, jetzt, gerade; morgens, mittags, nachts; gestern, früher, einmal, damals; seither, inzwischen; morgen, bald, demnächst, nachher, später
  • Frequency: immer, meist(ens), manchmal, selten, nie, niemals

Time is fleeting

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Adverbs help us explain the circumstances at whicha verb is done, but they can also be used to describe other adverbs and adjectives. In German, we differentiate between adverbs of place (Lokaladverbien), adverbs of time and frequency (Temporaladverbien), adverbs of cause (Kausaladverbien), and adverbs of manner (Modaladverbien). 

Adverbs of time and/or frequency are used to demonstrate how often, or how frequently something is done, or at what point in time something is done. 

Ich gehe ins Kino.
 (No adverb/element of time or frequency).
I go to the movie theater. 
Ich gehe oft ins Kino. (“oft” describes the frequency)
I often go to the movie theater. 

Adverbs can be placed at the very beginning of the sentence for emphasis, but remember that putting something other than the subject in position one will create inverted word oder. In the middle of a sentence, adverbs are typically placed behind the verb, before the direct object, and after the indirect object. If will also precede prepositional phrases. If different kinds of adverbs appear in one sentence, we usually put adverbs of frequency first, then adverbs of manner/cause, and lastly, adverbs of place.

1. Adverbs of Frequency

Depending on the degree of frequency, we can use any of the following adverbs of frequency, starting with the least frequent “nie” (never).

adverbs of frequency jpg

Stephan isst selten Fleisch.  or  Selten isst Stephen Fleisch. (no comma!)
Stephen seldom eats meat.   or   Seldom does Stephan eat meat. 

2. Days of the week as adverbs of time

When referring to individual days of the week, typically we use them as nouns. In german, all days of the week are masculine (der Montag, der Dienstag, etc). We can refer to a specific moment in time that occurs on a speficic day, in which case we use the preposition (because we are using a noun!) “an”, with can be contracted to “am” (an dem), but we can also use “nächst-” (next), or “jed-” (every). Remember that prepositions trigger cases! 

Am Donnerstag habe ich eine Prüfung.
 (One time event, “Thursday” is used as a noun)
On Thursday I have an exam. 
Er arbeitet jeden Montag von zu hause. 
He works from home every Monday. 

If we want to express frequency using the days of the week, we can make adverbs out of the nouns. Adverbs are always lower case (unless they are the first word of the sentence). We also drop the preposition “am”, because we are no longer dealing with a noun, and we add an “s”. Words like “tomorrow”, and “yesterday” are also adverbs of time. 

days of the week german jpg

Ich gehe am Montag in die Arbeit. (“Montag” is used as a noun with “am”)
I (will) go to work on Monday.
Ich gehe montags in die Arbeit. (“montags” is an adverb, so no “am” but an extra “s”)
I to to work on Mondays/every Monday. 

3. Time of Day

The exact same rules apply to the different times of day. With the exception of “die Nacht” (the night), all times of day are masculine, and need a preposition (“am”) when used as a noun. If they are used as an adverb (to express habit vs. a one time event), we drop the preposition, add the extra “s” to the end, and lower-case the first letter. 

time of day jpg

Ich habe am Nachmittag ein Meeting.
 (“Nachmittag” is a noun and needs “am”)
I have a meeting in the afternoon. 
Ich habe nachmittags ein Meeting. “nachmittags” is an adverb)
I have a meeting in the afternoons/every afternoon. 

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.