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An adverbial clause is a clause that functions as an adverb. In other words, it contains subject (explicit or implied) and predicate, and it modifies a verb.

  • I saw Joe when I went to the store. (explicit subject I)
  • He sat quietly in order to appear polite. (implied subject he)

According to Sidney Greenbaum and Randolph Quirk, adverbial clauses function mainly as adjuncts or disjuncts. In those functions they are like adverbial phrases, but in their potentiality for greater explicitness, they are more often like prepositional phrases (Greenbaum and Quirk,1990):

  • We left after the speeches ended. (Is it an adverbial clause, adverbial phrase or preposition phrase?)
  • We left after the end of the speeches.(Is it an adverbial clause, adverbial phrase or preposition phrase?)

Contrast adverbial clauses with adverbial phrases, which do not contain a clause.

  • I like to fly kites for fun.


Kinds of adverbial clauses

kind of clause usual conjunction function example
time clauses when, before, after, since, while, as, until These clauses are used to say when something happens by referring to a period of time or to another event. Her father died when she was young.
conditional clauses if, unless These clauses are used to talk about a possible situation and its consequences. If they lose weight during an illness, they soon regain it afterwards.
purpose clauses in order to, so that, in order that These clauses are used to indicate the purpose of an action. They had to take some of his land so that they could extend the churchyard.
reason clauses because, since, as, given These clauses are used to indicate the reason for something. I couldn't feel anger against him because I liked him too much.
result clauses so..that These clauses are used to indicate the result of something. My suitcase had become so damaged on the journey home that the lid would not stay closed.
concessive clauses although, though, while These clauses are used to make two statements, one of which contrasts with the other or makes it seem surprising. I used to read a lot although I don't get much time for books now
place clauses where, wherever These clauses are used to talk about the location or position of something. He said he was happy where he was.
clauses of manner as, like, the way These clauses are used to talk about someone's behaviour or the way something is done. I was never allowed to do things the way I wanted to do them.
clauses of exclamations what a(an), how, such, so Exclamations are used to express anger, fear, shock, surprise etc. They always take an exclamation mark (!). What horrible news! How fast she types! You lucky man!

Further reading

  • Greenbaum, Sidney & Quirk, Randolph. A Student's Grammar of the English Language. Hong Kong: Longman Group (FE) Ltd, 1990.
  • Sinclair, John (editor-in-chief). Collins Cobuild English Grammar. London and Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co ltd, 1990.

See also

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Wikipedia has an article on:


adverbial clause (plural adverbial clauses)

  1. a subordinate clause that functions as an adverb within a main clause

There are the following kinds of adverbial clauses:

  • distance clause
  • frequency clause
  • manner clause
  • place clause
  • purpose clause
  • result clause
  • time clause




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