Adverbial Phrases (& Clauses) | Definition & Examples

An adverbial phrase is a group of words that acts like an adverb—i.e., it modifies a verb, adjective, adverb, or even a whole clause.

Like adverbs, adverbial phrases can be used to describe how (e.g., “with sadness”), where (e.g., “behind the bookshelf”), when (e.g., “in the morning”), and why (e.g., “to buy groceries”).

Adverbial clauses are similar to adverbial phrases. However, unlike adverbial phrases, adverbial clauses always have a subject and verb (e.g., “when you visit”).

Examples: Adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses in a sentence
Jamil has a meeting at noon.

Samantha went to her friend’s house to watch a film.

Before we begin, I would like to make an announcement.

Adverbial phrases

An adverbial phrase (or adverb phrase) is a group of words that acts as an adverb to modify the main clause of a sentence. Adverbial phrases can be made up of two adverbs. These are typically formed by adding a qualifier or intensifier (e.g., “incredibly,” “rather,” “very,” “somewhat”) before another adverb.

Examples: Adverbial phrases with two adverbs
Bri ate her breakfast very quickly.

Detective Jones caught the thief quite easily.

Other types of adverbial phrases include prepositional phrases (e.g., “in the afternoon”), and infinitive phrases (e.g., “to get a haircut”). These phrases don’t necessarily include any adverbs but do play the same role as an adverb in the sentence.

Examples: Adverbial prepositional phrases and adverbial infinitive phrases
The store closes at six o’clock.

To become a better musician, Cassie practiced every day.

Like adverbs, adverbial phrases serve a range of functions, some of which are explained below.

Type Function Example
Manner Explain how something happens Emir spoke of his daughter with pride.
Place Explain where something happens I threw my coat on the chair.
Purpose Explain why something happens I’m going to the airport to pick up my aunt and uncle.
Time Explain when something happens Let’s go for a walk after dinner.

Adverbial clauses

An adverbial clause (or adverb clause) is a clause containing a subject and verb that acts as an adverb to modify the main clause of a sentence.

Adverbial clauses are connected to the main clause of a sentence using subordinating conjunctions (e.g., “because,” “since,” “before,” “although,” “so that”). Adverbial clauses are always dependent (i.e., they have a subject and verb, but they can’t form standalone sentences).

Examples: Adverbial clauses in a sentence
I’ll call you when I arrive.

Shauna is tired because she didn’t sleep well.

Adverbial clauses serve a range of functions, some of which are described below.

Type Function Example
Manner Explain how something happens He ran as fast as he could.
Place Explain where something happens I bring my phone wherever I go.
Purpose Explain why something happens Vera bought Tom this gift because she thought he would like it.
Time Explain when something happens After they set up the tent, they built a fire.
Condition Introduce possible outcomes David will be here at two o’clock if he gets the next train.
Comparison Compare or contrast Patrick can speak French as well as I can.
Concession Introduce a contrast Although it’s raining, it’s still warm outside.

Adverbial placement rules

Adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses can be positioned at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, depending on where you want to place emphasis.

A fronted adverbial (i.e., an adverbial phrase or clause used at the beginning of a sentence) is typically followed by a comma. No comma is needed when the adverbial is placed at the end of a sentence.

Examples: Adverbial phrase placement
On Saturday mornings, I go jogging.

I go jogging on Saturday mornings.

When an adverbial clause or phrase is placed in the middle of a sentence (between the subject and verb), it’s set off with commas.

Example: Adverbial clause in the middle of a sentence
Ethan, when he is working, does not answer his phone.

For some sentences, the placement of adverbial clauses and phrases can more drastically change the meaning, and a misplaced modifier (i.e., a modifier that’s not clearly connected to the word, phrase, or clause it’s intended to modify) can cause ambiguity or confusion.

In the first sentence below, the placement of the adverbial phrase suggests that Kara’s holiday took place in the office. Moving the phrase to the beginning of the sentence makes the intended meaning clearer.

Examples: Modifier placement
  • Kara told me about her holiday in the office.
  • In the office, Kara told me about her holiday.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.

Frequently asked questions

What are the different types of adverbials?

An adverbial is a word or group of words that modifies a verb, an adjective, an adverb, or a whole clause.

Adverbs (e.g., “quickly”) are one-word adverbials. Adverbial phrases (e.g., “after dinner”) and adverbial clauses (e.g., “although it’s raining”) are adverbials formed using multiple words.

Can you end a sentence with an adverb?

Many types of adverbs (adverbs of manner, adverbs of time etc.) can be used at the end of a sentence to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb (e.g., “you read quietly”).

Adverbial phrases (e.g., “at two o’clock”) and adverbial clauses (e.g., “wherever I go”) can also be placed at the end of a sentence to modify a preceding clause.

What is a fronted adverbial?

A fronted adverbial is an adverb or adverbial that is placed at the start of a sentence. Many adverbials, including sentence adverbs (e.g., “unfortunately”), adverbial phrases (e.g., “after work”) and adverbial clauses (e.g., “because you are smart”), can be used as fronted adverbials.

When an adverb or adverbial is placed at the start of a sentence, it should be followed by a comma (e.g., “luckily, the train was on time”).

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Ryan, E. (2022, November 16). Adverbial Phrases (& Clauses) | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.scribbr.com/sentence-structure/adverbials/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press. 

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.

1 comment

Eoghan Ryan
Eoghan Ryan (Scribbr Team)
October 20, 2022 at 6:54 PM

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