An adverb clause is a group of words that function as an adverb in a sentence. Adverb clauses can be used to add explanatory detail to your writing and explain how or why things happen. To identify adverb clauses, you'll need to understand what an adverb does as well as how a clause is formed. Explore the basics and review examples of different types of adverb clauses.
An adverb is a part of speech that describes an adjective, another adverb or a verb. Adverbs give more information about how an action was performed. In general, they answer questions like, how, why, where, and when. An adverb can do this on its own, with just one word, as illustrated by examples of adverbs in sentences. Groups of words (phrases or clauses) that function as adverbs can also perform this function in sentences.
- She walked slowly. (adverb)
- She walked like an old lady. (adverb phrase)
- She walked as if she were heading to the gallows. (adverb clause)
In each of these sentences, the bold word or group of words answers the question "how?" and describes the verb "walked."
In reviewing the difference between phrases and clauses, consider the previously listed examples of words being used together to function as an adverb in a sentence.
- She walked like an old lady. (phrase)
- She walked as if she were heading to the gallows. (clause)
In these examples, "like an old lady" does not contain a subject and a verb, and is, therefore, an adverb phrase. However, "as if she were heading to the gallows" does contain a subject (she) and a verb (were heading), making it an adverb clause.
Clauses can be either independent or dependent. Independent clauses are complete sentences, so that's not what adverb clauses are. Dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses, cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. Adverb clauses are one type of dependent clause. They are distinct from other types of dependent clauses because they function as an adverb.
In the examples below, the dependent clauses are bold and independent clauses are underlined.
- Because he has a college degree, he got a great job.
- When the storm started, she was at the store.
- Bob wore a coat that I gave him.
Each of the dependent clauses (marked in bold) has a subject and a verb, but is not a complete sentence on its own. They are dependent on an independent clause for meaning. The independent clauses (underlined) can stand on their own as grammatically complete sentences, but they are enhanced with more detail by the addition of the dependent clauses.
Adverb clauses, also known as adverbial clauses, are dependent clauses that function as adverbs. This means that adverb clauses have a subject and a verb and serve the purpose of describing an adjective, a verb or another adverb.
Since adverb clauses are dependent clauses, they must have a subordinating conjunction that connects them to the rest of the sentence. Being able to spot a subordinating conjunction will help you recognize an adverb clause. Several examples of subordinating conjunctions are listed below. They're grouped by what type of question they answer:
- when - after, when, until, soon, before, once, while, as soon as, whenever, by the time
- how - if, whether or not, provided, in case, unless, even if, in the event
- why - because, as, since, so, in order that, now that, inasmuch as
- where - wherever, where
Adverb clauses can be placed at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. When placed at the beginning or in the middle, they require a comma to offset them from the rest of the sentence. When the adverb clause is at the end of a sentence, no comma is needed. In the examples below, the adverb clause and associated punctuation are bold.
- beginning placement (comma required) - Whether you like it or not, you have to go.
- middle placement (commas required) - The boy, although he is very bright, failed math.
- end placement (no comma) - She enjoyed the party more than he did.
Because they act like adverbs in a sentence, adverb clauses usually answer questions of where, when, why and how in a sentence. The examples below are organized by which question is answered by the adverb clause. The adverb clause is bold in each one.
Adverbial clauses often provide information about where something occurs. Use this type of adverb clause when you're trying to explain the location of something so that you're being very clear on the exact place.
- Wherever there is music, people will dance.
- You can drop by for a visit where we’re staying this summer.
- We're staying at the hotel where the spa is located.
- The big field, where the corn is planted, needs to be mowed.
The adverbial clauses below answer the question when. Use this type of adverb clause when you are discussing time. They are appropriate for when you want to clarify the timeframe in which something will, has or is expected to take place.
- After the chores are done, we will eat ice cream.
- When the clock strikes midnight, she has to leave.
- Tomatoes on the vine, when they get a lot of rain, will split.
- I get bad headaches when I go too long without eating.
The adverb clauses below are examples of ones that answer the question why. Use this type of adverb clause when you're providing an explanation of the cause or purpose for something, both of which provide explanations or justifications for the outcome.
- She passed the course because she worked hard. (cause)
- Because she stuck to the recommended diet, her blood pressure and blood sugar decreased. (cause)
- So that he would not ruin the carpet, he took off his shoes. (purpose)
- He eats vegetables in order to stay healthy. (purpose)
The adverb clauses below answer the question how. Within this category, there are clauses of condition and clauses of concession. Clauses of condition specify what needs to occur in order for something to happen, while clauses of concession specify what has occurred in spite of a circumstance that would seem to indicate that there should have been a different outcome.
- If you save some money, you can buy a new game. (condition)
- Unless you hurry, you will be late for school. (condition)
- Even though you are 13, you can’t go to that movie. (concession)
- Although you gave it your best effort, you did not win the match. (concession)
While adverb clauses are a little more complicated than standalone adverbs, they are very useful in adding richer detail to your writing by explaining how and why things happen. When you begin to add subordinating conjunctions and dependent clauses to your writing, you add interest by varying the rhythm of your sentences. Layering in important information via adverb clauses helps to create a complete picture for the reader. Explore examples of adverb clauses to get a sense of the many ways these descriptors can be used to improve your writing.