What Is a Dependent Adverb Clause? (with Examples)

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Dependent Adverb Clause

A dependent adverb clause is a group of words that plays the role of an adverb and that contains a subject and a verb. A dependent clause usually tells us when, where, why, how, how often, or under what condition the main verb in the sentence takes place. For example:
  • The otter surfaced occasionally.
  • (This is a normal adverb. It tell us when the otter surfaced. "Surfaced" is the main verb in the sentence.)
  • The otter surfaced when we looked the other way.
  • (This is a dependent adverb clause. It still tells us when the otter surface. This time though, the adverb is an adverb clause.)
Like all dependent clauses, a dependent adverb clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. Like all clauses, a dependent adverb clause includes a subject and a verb.

dependent adverb clause

Examples of Dependent Adverb Clauses

Here are some examples of dependent adverb clauses (shaded):

A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Time (When)
  • Press the button when I say I'm ready.
  • Press the button now.
  • (The word "now" is a normal adverb of time.)
A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Place (Where)
  • Charlie used to run where his father ran as a boy.
  • Charlie used to run here.
  • (The word "here" is a normal adverb of place.)
  • Charlie used to run in the park.
  • (The phrase "in the park" is an adverbial phrase.)
A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Reason (Why) A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Manner (How)
  • The shark circled like it meant business.
  • The shark circled menacingly.
  • (The word "menacingly" is a normal adverb of manner.)
A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Frequency (How Often)
  • The penguins returned as soon as their crops were full of fish.
  • The penguins returned hourly.
  • (The word "hourly" is a normal adverb that shows how often. NB: Adverbs of frequency are also classified as adverbs of time.)
A Dependent Adverb Clause as an Adverb of Condition (If...Then)
  • If they predict rain, cancel the concert.
  • If yes, cancel the concert.
  • (Most adverbs of condition are clauses. "If yes" is a bit contrived.)
Read more about adverbs.

Not all dependent clauses function as adverbs (like the ones in the examples above). A dependent clause can also function as an adjective or a noun.

Read more about dependent clauses.

The Link between a Dependent Clause and an Independent Clause

The link between a dependent adverb clause and an independent clause is called a subordinating conjunction. For example:
  • We used to read until the candles went out.
  • (The subordinating conjunction is in bold.)
Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions:
after
although
as
as soon as
because
before
by the time
even if
even though
every time
if
in case
in order that
in the event that
just in case
like
now that
once
only if
provided that
rather than
since
so that
than
that
though
until
when
whenever
where
whereas
wherever
whether
whether or not
while
why
Look again at the examples from above. This time, the subordinating conjunctions are in bold.
  • Press the button when I say I'm ready.
  • Charlie used to run where his father ran as a boy.
  • I went to Dublin because I like Guinness.
  • The shark circled like it meant business.
  • The penguins returned as soon as their crops were full of fish.
  • If they predict rain, cancel the concert.

Why Should I Care about Dependent Adverb Clauses?

Native English speakers can use dependent adverb clauses without too many snags. By far the most common questions asked by writers about dependent adverb clauses relate to commas.

Using Commas with Dependent Adverb Clauses

Here are the rules for using commas with dependent adverb clauses:

(Clause at the front) If your dependent adverb clause is a fronted, offset it with a comma.

  • Unless you are willing to compromise, society cannot live together. (Economist Alan Greenspan)
  • (The dependent clause is at the start, so a comma is needed. It is useful to mark where the main clause starts.)

(Clause at the back) If your dependent adverb clause is at the back, do not use a comma.

  • Nothing is an obstacle unless you say it is. (Entrepreneur Wally Amos)
  • (The dependent clause is at the end, so a comma is not needed.)
This is not a fixed ruling. It's quite rare, but sometimes a comma is needed to distance the adverb from the main verb. Look at this example:
  • Janet didn't go to the party because her boss was there. She went to meet her friends.
  • (In this example, Janet actually went to the party.)
  • Janet didn't go to the party, because her boss was there. She doesn't like her boss.
  • (With the comma distancing "because her boss was there" from the verb (i.e., making the clause a non-restrictive clause, Janet didn't go to party.)
This situation is complicated, but, luckily, it's rare. It happens most often with a clause starting "because" that modifies a negative verb.

Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. Often a pause for effect is appropriate. Look at this example:
  • You can't go wrong with pizza, unless it's terrible pizza. (Comedian Andy Kindler)
  • (The comma is acceptable.)
Here's the bottom line. If your adverb clause is at the back (called "post-positioned"), then don't use a comma. However, if you think that a pause is appropriate or that a comma would help your readers identify where the main clause ends and the adverb clause starts, then it's safe to use a comma.

Read more about commas preceding post-positioned adverb clauses (see Points 3 and 4).

(Clause in the middle) If your dependent adverb clause is in the middle, use two commas.

  • Once you have your schtick that you think is good, unless you get something way better, just do that. (Controversial political commentator Gavin McInnes)
  • ("Schtick" means idea, piece, or routine (e.g., comic routine).)
An adverb placed mid-sentence is sometimes called an "interrupter." Don't forget the second comma.

NB: These rules also apply to adverbial phrases. For example (adverbial phrases in bold):
  • At the stroke of midnight, the carriage will turn back into a pumpkin.
  • The carriage will turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.
  • The carriage, at the stroke of midnight, will turn back into a pumpkin.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are dependent clauses? What are independent clauses? What are clauses? What are phrases? What are adverbs? What are subordinating conjunctions? What are relative pronouns? Glossary of grammatical terms