Adverbial Clauses

Definition

An adverbial clause, or adverb clause, is a group of words behaving as an adverb. Like all clauses, it always contains a subject and a predicate, and it is used, like a regular adverb, to modify adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. For example:
  • “I went to the park today.” (Today is an adverb that modifies the verb went.)
  • “I went to the park before my parents woke up.” (Before my parents woke up is an adverbial clause that also modifies the verb went.)
An adverbial clause is a type of dependent clause, or subordinate clause, that uses a subordinating conjunction to connect to the main clause. In the previous example, before acts as a subordinating conjunction, connecting the adverbial clause before my parents woke up to the main clause I went to the park.

Function

Subordinating conjunctions have different functions depending on the ideas being modified. We can therefore identify the function of an adverbial clause by looking at the type of subordinating conjunction connecting it to the main clause.
The table below highlights the various functions of some of the most common subordinating conjunctions:
Idea Being Modified
Subordinating Conjunction
Time
when, whenever, while, before, after, since, until, once
Place
where, wherever, everywhere, anywhere
Reason or purpose
because, as, since, so
Condition
if, unless, whether or not, in the event, provided
Comparison or manner
like, as, as… as, as if, the way, than
Contrast
though, although, even though, whereas, even if

Adverbial clauses of time

An adverbial clause of time describes when or for how long something has occurred or will occur. Possible subordinating conjunctions include when, whenever, while, before, after, since, until, and once. For example:
  • “I will arrive when dinner is ready.”
  • “He said he’ll go whenever you decide it’s time to leave.”
  • “Animals are cute while they’re young.”
  • Before you leave, let me give you a kiss.”
  • “Teachers grade papers after the students go home for the day.”
  • “I have loved you since the day I met you.”
  • “She waited on the shore until the ship departed.”
  • “The bully stopped picking fights once he realized it was wrong.”
(*Be careful with the subordinating conjunction since, because it is also used with adverbial clauses of reason or purpose, as we will see below.)

Adverbial clauses of place

An adverbial clause of place describes where something has occurred or will occur. The most common subordinating conjunctions are where, wherever, everywhere, and anywhere. For example:
  • “Grandma and Grandpa want to go where their children live.”
  • “I can go wherever I want to go.”
  • “Peter brings his sunglasses everywhere he goes.”
  • “Birds create nests anywhere they deem suitable.”

Adverbial clauses of reason or purpose

An adverbial clause of reason or purpose describes why something has occurred or will occur. Common subordinating conjunctions are because, as, since, and so. For example:
  • “I admire you because you are an inspiration to many people.”
  • As it is raining, we probably shouldn’t go to the park today.”
  • “I’m going outside to play since my homework is finished.”*
  • “He went to his room so he could be alone.”
(*Be careful with the subordinating conjunction since, because it is also used with adverbial clauses of time, as we saw above.)

Adverbial clauses of condition

Adverbial clauses of condition describe the conditions necessary for specific actions or events to happen. This type of clause usually employs the subordinating conjunctions if, unless, whether or not, in the event, and provided. For example:
  • If it snows tonight, I’m not going to work tomorrow.”
  • “Kate can’t attend the school dance unless her parents allow it.”
  • “He’s always doing crazy stunts whether or not they’re considered safe.”
  • In the event of a hurricane, you must stay inside.”
  • “They’ll approve your request provided you pay the appropriate amount of money.”

Adverbial clauses of comparison or manner

An adverbial clause of comparison or manner describes how or in what manner something occurred or will occur, to what degree something occurred or will occur, or how something compares to something else. Some of the most often used subordinating conjunctions are like, as, as … as, as if, the way, and than. For example:
  • “He sings like he wants to be a rock star.”
  • “The teary-eyed friends embraced as long-lost siblings would.”
  • “The freshly picked flower is as beautiful as it is soft.”
  • “She looked excited, as if she could jump up and dance at any moment.”
  • “Lauren walks confidently, the way a model struts on a runway.”
  • “Tim is more nervous than Rhonda (is).”*
(*In colloquial English, the final verb in an adverbial clause of comparison may be omitted. In this case, the sentence would become Tim is more nervous than Rhonda, in which the predicate verb is is implied. We also see verb omission in adverbial clauses containing the subordinating conjunctions before, after, and as … as.)

Adverbial clauses of contrast

An adverbial clause of contrast describes something that differs from or contrasts with an idea expressed in the main clause. Commonly used subordinating conjunctions include though, although, even though, whereas, and even if. For example:
  • Though the sun is out, the wind is very chilly.”
  • Although she doesn’t have much money, Wendy often goes traveling.”
  • “I do this job even though I hate it.”
  • “Babies look at the world with innocence, whereas adults look at it with experience.”
  • “Matt will go to college, even if it means taking out student loans.”

Adverbial clauses vs. adverbial phrases

An adverbial phrase is composed of two or more words functioning adverbially. Unlike an adverbial clause, it does not have a subject and a predicate. For example:
  • “Try to finish your summer reading list before school starts on Monday.” (adverbial clause)
  • “Try to finish your summer reading list before Monday.” (adverbial phrase)
Additionally, adverbial phrases often use prepositions instead of subordinating conjunctions:
  • “I’ll send the letters in a minute.”
  • “Heather can play tennis with such ease.”
Quiz

1. Which of the following is not a subordinating conjunction?





2. Which sentence contains an adverbial clause of place?





3. Which sentence contains an adverbial clause of condition?





4. Which sentence contains an adverbial phrase, as opposed to an adverbial clause?





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