Some of the most common ways to garner more information are to ask “when,” “where” or “why” questions. When are we going? Where are we going? Why are we going? In the English language, relative adverbs help to answer these questions. Take a closer look at this unique classification of adverbs.
Relative adverbs are words that provide more information about the people, places or things being discussed. Beyond that, relative adverbs join clauses and sentences together. They are used at the beginning of adjective clauses, which are also referred to as relative clauses. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a “when,” “where” or “why” question.
There are three commonly used relative adverbs:
Relative adverbs introduce relative clauses. That sounds like jargony grammar talk, doesn’t it? Fear not. All it means is that relative adverbs join two portions of a sentence together. They join nouns or pronouns to the relative clause.
Relative clauses provide more information about the noun or pronoun in the sentence (usually the subject). They require a relative adverb to do so.
Take a look at these two sentences:
- This is the place.
- He proposed to me.
Those sentences are correct but are a bit awkward to read or say. It’s more fluid to write:
- This is the place where he proposed to me.
Now we know more about the significance of the place. It’s where they decided to get married. What joined those two concepts together? The relative adverb “where.”
If you can spot the relative clause in a sentence, you can spot the relative adverb. They’ll always come directly before the clause. Relative clauses contain both a subject and a verb. Also, they begin with either a pronoun or an adverb. Beyond that, their primary function is to provide more information about the noun, or subject, of the sentence.
The 1700s were a time when men ruled and women obeyed.
Here, we know the subject of the sentence is the 1700s. What about them? Thanks to the relative adverb “when,” we know more about this century.
So, now we know “when,” “where” and “why” are the three most common relative adverbs. Words like "whenever" and "wherever" can also function as relative adverbs. To get a better sense of how they work, consider these relative adverb examples of each word in a complete sentence.
First, let’s consider the relative adverb “when.” What it really means is “in which.” However, “in which” tends to take on a slightly more formal tone, which is where relative adverbs come in. “When” allows us to understand the time in which an action took place, in a less formal manner.
- Gone are the days when I could stay up all night.
- The 50s were a time when the family unit was largely intact.
- That’s the year when we got married.
The relative adverb “where” is used to communicate “in which” or “at which.” Again, these are slightly formal phrases. “Where” allows us to understand the location of the subject of the sentence, in a less formal manner.
- We danced by the table where we could see the view.
- This is the coffee shop where we’ll find the best cup o’ joe.
- This is the garden where they took their photos.
The relative adverb “why” really means “for which,” which is a tad more formal than “why.” It provides more reason for something taking place.
- Her mass of library of books is the reason why she’s so well-spoken.
- Can you provide more information why this conclusion is valid?
- I have no idea why he called.
Test your knowledge of relative adverbs with these practice exercises. Try the sample items below on your own, then use the provided answers to check your work.
Decide which relative adverb (where, when or why) would be the best word to complete the following sentences.
- I want to travel to a place _______________________ it is warm and sunny.
- The person who interviewed me for the job asked _______________________ I am interested in working as a customer service representative.
- I really don't understand _______________________ the cake I baked did not rise.
- I am looking forward to a time _______________________ I don't have to wake up before daylight on a daily basis.
- Working in a fast-food restaurant is _______________________ I first learned how to be a supervisory.
- Can anyone help me find out _______________________ my great-great grandparents came to the United States?
- My teacher wanted to know _______________________ my homework was late again.
- I will tell you as soon as I find out _______________________ the meeting is scheduled.
- I need to find a place _______________________ I can stay when I visit campus next month.
- Do you know _______________________ your sister is grounded?
However, relative pronouns join an independent clause and a dependent clause, or one that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. The most common relative pronouns include:
Let’s explore each of these pronouns at work in complete sentences.
- The dress that I bought yesterday fits like a dream.
- Donuts, which we enjoy every Sunday morning, are our guilty pleasure.
- The woman who marries the prince is lucky, indeed.
- I will admire whoever wins that lucky prize.
- Can you tell me to whom does this belong?
- I’d like to know whose shoes these are.
- You may take whomever you choose.
Whether we like them or not, we’re joined to our relatives. The same goes for relative adverbs. Whether the subject of the sentence wants to be elaborated upon or not, a relative adverb can get the job done. For more on this complex yet integral part of speech, enjoy these adverb phrase examples.