Adverbial Clauses: What Is An Adverbial Clause? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 1, 2023

Have you ever heard of adverbial clauses? They're everywhere, and you use them all the time in your writing, even if you're not aware of it. That's why, in this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about them and how to use them correctly.

In short:

  • Adverbial clauses are groups of words containing a subject and a predicate that function as an adverb. They modify the other clause.

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Adverbial Clauses?

Adverbial clauses are clauses that do the job of an adverb. So, in order to properly understand them, you need to know what a clause is and what an adverb is. It's time for a quick grammar review!

  • Adverbs are one of the main parts of speech in English grammar, and they are individual words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Here's an example of an adverb:

She drove to the city center as quickly as she could.

In the above sentence, the adverb 'quickly' modifies the verb 'drove.' It tells us how she drove, which is 'quickly.'

  • Clauses are groups of words containing a subject and predicate, so they form a complete thought. Sometimes, they can stand alone (independent clauses), and other times, they can't (dependent clauses).

Here's an example of a clause:

I'm aware of the rules because I looked them up.

Here, the clause 'because I looked them up' communicates a complete thought because it contains a subject ('I') and a predicate ('looked them up'), but the presence of a conjunction ('because') means it can't stand alone so it's a dependent clause.

Adverbial clauses are always dependent clauses, which means they must be accompanied by an independent clause. It also means they could be removed without affecting the sentence's meaning, which makes it an adjunct. So why use them at all, then? Quite simply, adverbial clauses provide more information for your reader. They add richness to your text and give clues such as why, how, where, or how often something takes place. 

  • And because adverbial clauses contain more words than a simple adverb, they allow you to do that better.

Top Tip! Don't confuse adverbial clauses with adverbial phrases, which don't have a subject and a predicate and, therefore, don't express a complete thought.

What Can Adverbial Clauses Do?

The funny thing is that adverbial clauses don't even need to contain an adverb. They just take on an adverbial role. So, while they don't have to include an adverb, they do have to do the same thing an adverb does. So what can they do? They modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. But what that boils down to in the end is that they modify the other clause.

Remember how we said adverbial clauses are always dependent and therefore must come with an independent clause? Their role is to modify that clause. And they do that by providing more information about it.

Here's an attempt at classifying the different types of adverbial clauses:

  • Adverbial clause of manner
  • Adverbial clause of place
  • Adverbial clause of time
  • Adverbial clause of comparison
  • Adverbial clause of concession
  • Adverbial clause of condition
  • Adverbial clause of reason

Let's take a closer look at these one by one.

Adverbial Clause of Manner

An adverbial clause of manner tells us about the 'how' of the independent clause. They often start with the conjunctions 'as,' 'like,' or other connecting phrases such as 'the way.'

Here is an example:

She looked at me as though she had no idea who I was.

The adverbial clause of manner, underlined, gives us the how of the independent clause. You might imagine that someone had asked, "How did she look at you?".

Here are some more examples:

You led that meeting like uou've been doing this your whole life.

I melt when you look at me the way you do.

Adverbial Clause of Place

Adverbial clauses of place tell us where the independent clause takes place. They answer the question, "Where?". Some common conjunctions you'll see them start with are 'where,' 'wherever,' and 'anywhere.'

Here are some examples:

You know he will follow you wherever you go.

I don't have a clue where I'm going.

They're open to going anywhere the weather is good.

Adverbial Clause of Time

If you want to know "when," the adverbial clause of time will answer that, using conjunctions such as 'before,' 'as,' or 'no sooner than.'

The class was in session, and no sooner than the bell rang than the students scattered out of the classroom.

He used to be a teacher before he moved here.

As I walked into the room I was overwhelmed by a strong scent of lavender.

Adverbial Clause of Comparison

Adverbial clauses of comparison allow you to compare two things in degree and manner. You'll often see these begin with conjunctions such as 'than,' 'as,' or 'the way.' You'll also use comparative and superlative adjectives in these sentences a lot.

You're much better at maths than you think you are

My sister is as insensitive as she is nosy.

Everything happened the way you said it would.

Adverbial Clause of Concession

When we say 'concession,' we are talking about reasons that might have led us not to do a thing, but we did them despite that reason. So, an adverbial clause of concession contrasts the independent clause it modifies. Some conjunctions you'll often see in these clauses are 'although,' 'despite,' or 'even.'

We went on vacation in the Himalayas, even though my husband wanted a beach vacation

Despite the strong wind they managed to make it to the top of the mountain.

I agreed to go to the concert, and although I'm not usually a fan of pop music, I did enjoy the evening.

Adverbial Clause of Condition

Adverbial clauses of conditions allow you to express the conditions relevant to the events described in the independent clause. A common format for these clauses will be the 'if...then' format we often see with the conditional mood. But that's not all; some other common conjunctions you'll see at the beginning of these types of adverbial clauses are 'until,' 'whether,' and 'provided that.'

Provided that it doesn't rain, we can have a picnic.

If we leave early, then we can stop along the way for lunch, 

I'm going to stay here until the cafe closes.

Adverbial Clause of Reason

As you may have guessed, these types of adverbial clauses allow you to explain the reason for the main idea described in the independent clause. 'Given that,' 'because,' and 'since' are conjunctions commonly used to introduce these clauses.

The house sale didn't go ahead because the buyers backed out.

Since you're here you might as well enjoy yourselves.

We have had discussed this extensively, and given that the school has a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, we must expel him. 

How to Use Adverbial Clauses

Now you're familiar with the different types of adverbial clauses and the purpose they can serve in your sentences, let's take a closer look at how to use them accurately in your writing so your readers understand your message without effort.

Introducing Adverbial Clauses With Subordinating Conjunctions

The first thing to know is that all adverbial clauses must begin with a subordinating conjunction. 

Here's a list of common subordinating conjunctions:

  • after
  • before
  • since
  • while
  • as
  • until
  • how
  • though
  • unless
  • wherever
  • than
  • despite

This list is non-exhaustive; there are many more, many of which you can find in the examples provided up to this point in this article.

The mere presence of a conjunction in a clause makes it dependent. Take our last example, for instance. The sentence "The school has a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying" conveys a complete thought and can stand alone. But when you introduce it with the subordinating conjunction 'given that,' it's no longer a sentence that can stand alone; thus, it becomes a dependent, adverbial clause.

Where to Place Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial clauses can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of your sentence. In other words, it can come before or after the independent clause it modifies or in between two independent clauses.

  • Where you place your adverbial clause depends on where you want to place emphasis.

You can even find two adverbial clauses modifying the same independent clause, like in the following sentence, which uses an adverbial clause of concession, followed by the independent clause, and then an adverbial clause of place:

Despite the fact I've lived here for years, I don't have a clue where I'm going.

  • If the adverbial clause is at the beginning of the sentence (fronted adverbial), it should usually be followed by a comma.

Here's an example:

Because I hadn't studied for the test, I got a terrible score. 

  • If the adverbial clause is in the middle of the sentence, it should be offset by commas.

Case in point:

My auntie, despite her profound love of nature, is terrified of spiders. 

  • No commas are required if it's placed at the end of the sentence. 

He doesn't have a job because he cares for his ill mother.

Avoid Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Just like with all modifiers, there's a risk of giving the wrong impression if you position adverbial clauses incorrectly in a sentence.

  • A case of a misplaced modifier happens when the clause is placed too far away from the clause it modifies.

Here's an example:

The dog snuggled up in its bed because it was cold

Here, it's unclear whether it's the dog that is cold or the bed. To make it clear that it's the dog that is cold, we should place the adverbial clause closer to the noun it modifies.

Because it was cold, the dog snuggled up in its bed. 

  • A dangling modifier happens when the thing being described is missing from the sentence.

It looks like this:

Despite interrogating everyone, the murderer still eluded them. 

The above sentence makes it sound like the murderer interrogated everyone. Of course, we have to assume that it was, in fact, the police that interrogated everyone, and that is still eluded by the murderer. But the subject is missing from the sentence, causing a dangling modifier.

Here's a better way to phrase it:

Despite the police interrogating everyone, the murderer still eluded them. ✅

Concluding Thoughts on Adverbial Clauses

That concludes this article on adverbial clauses and their uses in English grammar. I hope you found it helpful and that you feel confident using them in your own sentences now.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Adverbial clauses are groups of words containing a subject and a predicate that perform the role of an adverb. 
  • They modify an independent clause by providing more information about it.
  • There are adverbial clauses of manner, place, time, comparison, condition, concession, and reason. 
  • All adverbial clauses are dependent clauses and should be introduced with a subordinating conjunction.
  • Use commas to follow a fronted adverbial clause, commas to offset an adverbial clause in the middle of a sentence, and no commas with adverbial clauses at the end of a sentence.
  • Watch out for misplaced and dangling modifiers.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like our other grammar blogs, which you can find in our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles just like this one. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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