What Is an Adverbial Phrase? (with Examples)
Adverbial PhraseAn adverbial phrase is a group of words that functions as an adverb.
Easy Example of an Adverbial PhraseHere is an easy example of an adverbial phrase:
- Jack will sit in silence. (The adverbial phrase "in silence" is functioning as an adverb of manner. It tells us how Jack sat.)
- Jack will sit quietly. (This is a normal adverb. This example has been included to prove that "in silence" is an adverb.)
- I will sit like a monk meditates. (This is an adverbial clause. It includes a subject ("a monk") and a verb ("meditates").)
When (Adverbial Phrase of Time)An adverbial phrase of time states when something happens or how often. For example:
- I'll do it in a minute.
- After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box. (Italian Proverb)
- Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day. (Albert Camus)
Where (Adverbial Phrase of Place)An adverbial phrase of place states where something happens. For example:
- I used to work in a fire-hydrant factory. You couldn't park anywhere near the place. (Steven Wright)
- Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings. (Ed Gardner)
How (Adverbial Phrase of Manner)An adverbial phrase of manner states how something is done. For example:
- He would always talk with a nationalistic tone.
- He sings in a low register.
- People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one. (Leo J. Burke)
Why (Adverbial Phrase of Reason)An adverbial phrase of reason states why something is done. For example:
- He went to the island to find gold.
- He plays up to impress his class mates.
- We tell ourselves stories in order to live. (Author Joan Didion)
The Format of Adverbial PhrasesHere are three common formats for adverbial phrases:
- Prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase is headed by a preposition (e.g., "in," "on," "near," "by," "with"). For example:
- He was standing in the corner.
- She is winning without trying.
- Infinitive phrase. An infinitive phrase is headed by an infinitive verb (e.g., "to play," "to jump"). For example:
- She went to Florence to paint.
- Fill in this form to join our club.
- An adverb with an intensifier. An adverb with an intensifier (e.g., "very," "extremely," "really") is also an adverbial phrase. For example:
- He answered you very quickly.
- She danced extremely beautifully.
- We arrived a day later than expected.
- I paid him every week.
Why Should I Care about Adverbial Phrases?Here are four good reasons to think more carefully about adverbial phrases.
(Reason 1) Be careful not to create a misplaced modifier.A misplaced modifier is a word (or group of words) that does not link clearly to what it is intended to modify. A misplaced modifier makes the meaning of a sentence ambiguous or wrong. Look at this example:
- Jack, coax the monkey with the banana. (The shaded text is a misplaced modifier. It is meant to be an adverbial phrase modifying the verb "coax." It is supposed to tell Jack how to coax the monkey. However, the shaded text could feasibly be an adjective phrase describing the monkey, telling Jack which monkey to coax.)
- Jack, use the banana to coax the monkey. (Often, rewording is best. This corrected example does not feature an adverbial phrase.)
- "He was a hero at his last police station. He once shot a robber with a Kalashnikov."
"Great, where did he get that?"
(The shaded text is a misplaced modifier. It is meant to be an adjective phrase describing the robber. However, it was taken to be an adverbial phrase modifying the verb "shot.")
(Reason 2) Use commas correctly with your adverbial clauses.When your adverbial phrase (or clause for that matter) is at the front of your sentence, it is known as a "fronted adverbial." A fronted adverbial is usually offset with a comma. For example:
- At 4 o'clock, open the gates.
- In the middle of New York, temperatures reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Open the gates at 4 o'clock.
- Temperatures reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of New York.
- In July 1936, temperatures reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of New York.
- In the middle of New York, temperatures reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July 1936.
(Reason 3) Save two words by writing "to" instead of "in order to."To reduce your word count, you can usually replace "in order to" with "to" without any loss of meaning.
- The mountaineers spent two months with the air-sea rescue team
in orderto gain experience.
- Jack designed a device
in orderto find underground water.
(With "in order" deleted, we're now unsure whether Jack designed an underground-water finder (i.e., "to find underground water" is an adjective describing "device") or whether he designed a device that can be used to detect underground water as per his intention (i.e., "to find underground water" is an adverb modifying "designed"). With "in order to," that ambiguity disappears. It can only be the latter. Get it?)
Read more about "in order to" on the non-finite verbs page (see Reason 3).
(Reason 4) Delete your intensifier, unless you really need it.When writing formally, the level of intensity should be achieved through word choice (e.g., by using strong adjectives instead of intensifiers). Using intensifiers is widely considered as lazy writing.
- She was very angry. (This is considered as lazy writing.)
- She was livid. (There is no need for an intensifier with a strong adjective like "livid.")
- If everything is very important, then nothing is important. (Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney)