Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Are Adverbial Clauses and Phrases?

The Quick Answer
We know that adverbs modify verbs, e.g., He ran quickly. (Quickly is the adverb, and ran is the verb.)

When an adverb consists of more than one word, it is known as an adverbial phrase, e.g., He ran like the wind. If this phrase contains its own verb, it's called an adverbial clause, e.g., He ran like his life depended on it.

Adverbial Clauses and Phrases

Quite often, an adverb in a sentence comprises several words. These types of adverbs are called adverbial phrases or adverbial clauses. Adverbial phrases and clauses (shaded below) can usually be categorised as one of the following:

Adverbs of Time

  • A crow attacked your cat while I was waiting for the bus.
  • Every time he cracked a joke, the punters roared with laughter.
  • (Note the comma. This is explained in the Hot Tip to the right.)

Adverbs of Place

  • It is colder and wetter in the north of Germany.
  • Put the sign where the students can read it.

Adverbs of Manner

  • That dog is walking around like he owns the place.
  • She is acting as if she has stolen something.

Adverbs of Degree

  • You are not as clever as you think you are.
  • He is as modest as he is brilliant.

Adverbs of Condition

  • If I have the time, I will show you the cellar after the shift.
  • I will come with you provided my suit is back from the dry cleaners.

Adverbs of Concession

  • Although only four years old, Oliver can do long multiplication.
  • I will cover for you although I may lose my job.

Adverbs of Reason

  • We were forced to abandon the match because the skies opened up.
  • Since it is your birthday, you can sit in the front.
Top Tip

Use a Comma When It's at the Front

There are very few problems associated with adverbial clauses and phrases. The main grammar point is whether to use a comma or not.

When an adverbial clause or phrase is at the front of a sentence, it is usual to use a comma.
  • A crow attacked your cat while I was waiting for the bus.
  • (No comma is required as the adverbial clause at the end of the sentence.)
  • While I was waiting for the bus, a crow attacked your cat.
  • (This time, a comma is required because the adverbial clause at the start.)
  • It is colder and wetter in the north of Germany.
  • (no comma required - adverbial clause at the end)
  • In the north of Germany, it is colder and wetter.
  • (comma required - adverbial clause at the start)
Read more about using commas with adverbial phrases and clauses.