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In French, adverbs that express a certain quantity or intensity are called adverbes de degré or adverbes de quantité. In English, these are similarly called adverbs of quantity and are commonly used in every day speech. For example, you could say: “My friend is so generous” or “My French is much better than my German”. Adverbs of quantity often pair with adjectives and indicate the degree to which something is done or is.
For non-French speakers, figuring out which adverbe de quantité to use to make your French phrase grammatically correct can be a confusing affair. Tellement, tant (de), and si are commonly confused French adverbs that have similar meanings in English (so or so much/many, depending on the context), but should be used in distinct grammatical ways.
The adverb si intensifies an adjective or another adverb. Such as: Il faisait si beau hier! (It was so beautiful yesterday!) It can also used in certain common expressions indicating hunger, thirst, and feelings such as fear or desire. For example, you could say: Elle avait si faim qu’elle mangeait cette pomme pourrie. (She was so hungry that she ate that rotten apple.) Or Il conduit si vite que personne ne veut monter dans sa voiture. (He drives so quickly that no one wants to get in his car.) In the first scenario, the si modifies an adjective (to be hungry), while in the second case the si modifies an adverb (to drive quickly).
Si can also directly modify a verb while acting as an adverb. For example, you could say: Ne courez pas si vite! (Don’t run so fast!) or Elle n’est pas si grande que toi. (She is not as tall as you.)
The word tellement is used in a similar way to si. It can intensify an adjective, or an adverb and is interchangeable with si in the examples above. (You could easily say: Il faisait tellement beau hier! or Il conduit tellement vite que personne ne veut monter dans sa voiture or Elle avait tellement faim qu’elle mangeait cette pomme pourrie.) However, you could not use it to directly modify a verb as si does above. Ne courez pas tellement vite! is NOT grammatically correct. You also cannot use tellement in a comparison, as you can with si: Elle n’est pas tellement grande que toi is also NOT grammatically correct.
Additionally, tellement can be used to mean so much or so many. For example: J’aime tellement ses romans (I like her novels so much) or j’ai mangé tellement de fruits (I ate so many fruits). Notice how, in the second example, there is an added de. Si does not have this meaning. However, tant (de) can also express the quantity of a noun. You could certainly say: J’aime tant ses romans or j’ai tant mangé de fruits. Tant does not have the flexibility of use that tellement otherwise does and cannot precede adjectives.
When using tellement or si in speech, it is important to note that tellement is less formal than si. It would be more common to say or hear j’ai tellement froid in regular speech than j’ai si froid, although hearing this latter phrase is not necessarily uncommon. Tant is even more formal and sounds somewhat old-fashioned in speech, although it is often used in song lyrics and other texts.
In the following exercises, tellement is used in sentences where it could easily be replaced by either si or tant. Replace tellement with the appropriate word and add your responses in the comments!