Adverbial Clause

by Craig Shrives

What Is an Adverbial Clause? (with Examples)

An adverbial clause is a group of words that plays the role of an adverb. (Like all clauses, an adverbial clause contains a subject and a verb.)

Interactive Examples of Adverbial Clauses

Here are some interactive examples to help explain the difference between adverbial clauses, adverbial phrases, and single-word adverbs. (In these examples, the subjects are blue, and the verbs are green. Note that only the adverbial clauses have a subject and a verb.)
    adverbial clause

    Easy Example of an Adverbial Clause

    Here is an easy example of an adverbial clause:
    • Keep hitting the gong until I tell you to stop.
    Compare the example above with the similar sentence below, which features an example with a normal adverb.
    • Keep hitting the gong hourly.
    • (This bold text is a normal adverb, not an adverbial clause.)
    In the two examples above, the adverbial clause and the normal adverb both tell us when the gong is to be hit. Therefore, they are both adverbs of time.

    Real-Life Examples of Adverbial Clauses

    Below are some more examples (including some well-known proverbs and quotations) with adverbial clauses. These examples have been categorized according to the type of adverbial clause (e.g., adverb of time, adverb of place).

    Adverbs of Time (When?)

    An adverb of time states when something happens or how often. An adverb of time often starts with one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "after," "as," "as long as," "as soon as," "before," "no sooner than," "since," "until," "when," or "while."

    Here are some examples:
    • After the game has finished, the king and pawn go into the same box. (Italian Proverb)
    • I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph. (Actress Shirley Temple)
    • As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live. (Writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

    Adverbs of Place (Where?)

    An adverb of place states where something happens. An adverb of place often starts with a preposition (e.g., "in," "on," "near") or one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "anywhere," "everywhere," "where," or "wherever."

    Here are some examples:
    • Anywhere the struggle is great, the level of ingenuity and inventiveness is high. (Economist Eleni Zaude Gabre-Madhin)
    • I am not afraid of the pen, the scaffold, or the sword. I will tell the truth wherever I please. (Lobbyist Mother Jones)

    Adverbs of Manner (How?)

    An adverb of manner states how something is done. An adverb of manner often starts with one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "as," "like," or "the way."

    Here are some examples:
    • He acts like it is a joke.
    • We don't have conversations. You talk at me the way a teacher talks to a naughty student.
    • Except for an occasional heart attack, I feel as young as I ever did. (Comedian Robert Benchley)

    Adverbs of Degree or Comparison (To What Degree?)

    An adverb of degree states to what degree something is done or offers a comparison. An adverb of degree often starts with one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "than," "," "," or "the...the."

    Here are some examples:
    • A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff that nature replaces it with. (Playwright Tennessee Williams)
    • He is as smart as he is tall.
    • She is not so bright as she thinks she is.
    Sometimes, the verb in an adverb of degree is understood (i.e., not present). For example:
    • You are taller than I. correct tick
    • (In this example, the verb "am" has been omitted. This is permissible.)
    • You are taller than I am. correct tick
    • (This is the full version.)
    • You are taller than me. correct tick
    • (This is the colloquial version. This version might irk some of your grammar-savvy readers, but it is acceptable.)
    Read more about choosing between "than I" and "than me."

    Adverbs of Reason (Why?)

    An adverb of reason offers a reason for the main idea. An adverb of reason often starts with one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "as," "because," "given," or "since."

    Here are some examples:
    • I don't have a bank account because I don't know my mother's maiden name. (Comedian Paula Poundstone)
    • Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable. (Journalist Brenda Ueland)

    Adverbs of Condition (If, Then)

    An adverb of condition states the condition for the main idea to come into effect. An adverb of condition often starts with "if" or "unless."

    Here are some examples:
    • If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. (Physicist Albert Einstein)
    • If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur. (Author Doug Larson)
    • If all the rich people in the world divided up their money among themselves, there wouldn't be enough to go around. (Novelist Christina Stead)
    Read more about conditional sentences.

    Adverbs of Concession (In spite Of)

    An adverb of concession offers a statement which contrasts with the main idea. An adverb of concession often starts with one of the following subordinating conjunctions: "though," "although," "even though," "while," "whereas," or "even if."

    Here are some examples:
    • Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it's open to anybody who owns hideous clothing. (Author Dave Barry)
    • A loud voice cannot compete with a clear voice, even if it's a whisper. (Author Barry Neil Kaufman)

    Properties of an Adverbial Clause

    Here are the properties of an adverbial clause:
    • An adverbial clause is an adjunct. This means it can be removed without the sentence being grammatically wrong.
    • An adverbial clause is a dependent clause. This means it cannot stand alone as meaningful sentence in its own right.
    • An adverbial clause usually starts with a subordinating conjunction (e.g., "although," "because," "if," "until," "when")
    • An adverbial clause contains a subject and a verb. (This is what makes it a clause as opposed to a phrase.)
    There is a great reason to learn about adverbial clauses: comma placement.

    Using commas with adverbial clauses

    When your adverbial clause (or phrase for that matter) is at the front of a sentence (often called a fronted adverbial), it is good practice to use a comma afterwards. For example:
    • Where there are too many soldiers, there is no peace. Where there are too many lawyers, there is no justice. correct tick (Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang)
    When your adverbial clause is at the back, the tendency is to omit the comma. For example:

    • There is no peace where there are too many soldiers. There is no justice where there are too many lawyers. correct tick
    This "rule" works well with most adverbial clauses (which tend to be adverbs of time, place, or condition). However, it is not a strict rule. It is best described as guidance that is highly likely to see you right.

    Let's dig a little deeper. When your adverbial clause is at the front, you are safe to use a comma afterwards. The comma is considered useful to show where the adverbial clause ends and the main clause starts. When your adverbial clause is at the back of your sentence, things get a little more complicated because it depends whether the adverbial clause is essential (called a restrictive clause) or non-essential (called a non-restrictive clause). When it is essential, do not use a comma.

    As most adverbial clauses are essential, the ruling "do not use a comma for a post-positioned adverbial clause (one at the back)" is nearly always safe...but not always. For example:
    • Jack didn't win because he was the best player. He won because he paid the referee.
    • (In this example, Jack actually won. The adverbial clause "because he was the best player" is deemed essential to distinguish it from the situation below.)
    • Jack didn't win, because he was the worst player.
    • (In this example, Jack lost, as you'd expect the worst player to.)
    This point is covered more in the entry on independent clauses (see Points 3 and 4).

    Don't worry. There's leniency. If you think your post-positioned adverbial clause looks better when preceded by a comma, then there's likely to be a good reason for that (e.g., it might be non-essential, you might want a pause for effect, you might think it aids reading). These are all good enough reasons to use a comma. So, go for it. Enjoy the leniency. But, be careful not to change the meaning of your sentence (as would be the case with the "why did Jack win" example above). Here is a short video summarizing this lesson on adverbial clauses.

    Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

    • Do you disagree with something on this page?
    • Did you spot a typo?

    Find Us Quicker!

    • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.