Adverb Clause: The Definitive Guide

You would have written sentences like these:

He came down quickly.

I’ll do it tomorrow.

The two underlined words are adverbs. They provide answers to important questions on time, place, manner, reason, etc., providing background information in a sentence. In the above sentences, for example, quickly answers in what manner he came down and tomorrow answers the time he’ll do it.

Let’s see a variation of the above sentences.

He came down as if a lion was chasing him.

I’ll do it when I’ve finished my homework.

Haven’t we packed in more information here? The two sentences essentially say the same thing but in much greater detail. This has been made possible through adverb clauses, the underlined parts. In this post, we’ll learn adverb clause, also called adverbial clause. It’s one of the three dependent clauses, the other two being noun clause and relative clause.

Adverb clause is one of the three dependent clauses. You may learn about the other two and how to identify the three dependent clauses here:

What is an adverb clause?

An adverb clause, also called adverbial clause, is a dependent clause that acts as an adverb in a sentence, implying that it answers important questions to provide necessary background information in a sentence. Some of the common questions answered are:

  • When (adverb clause of time)
  • Where (adverb clause of place)
  • Why (adverb clause of reason)
  • In what manner (adverb clause of manner)
  • Under what condition (adverb clause of condition)

(There are more in the examples later in the post.)

In the first example we saw, the adverb clause answered in what manner. And in the second example, it answered when. More examples:

We were misled about the real worth of the company when we invested $ 50,000 in it. [Adverb clause of time]

Because the field was wet due to rain, the match was cancelled. [Adverb clause of reason]

Even though the shop was guarded, the thief made off with all the jewelry. [Adverb clause of contrast or concession]

When an adverb clause comes in the front position, it is always followed by a comma. In the end position though, it may sometimes take comma. More on punctuation rules in the section How to join an adverb clause to an independent clause.

An adverb clause answers questions but also functions as a modifier

We saw that adverb clauses answer questions in a sentence to provide background information. Answers to questions can also be understood as relationships that an adverb clause expresses with the event in the main clause. In the three examples above, the adverb clause expresses the relationship of time, reason, and contrast, respectively, with the event in the main clause.

Alternatively, like an adverb, an adverb clause can be understood as a modifier, but contrary to common perception, they don’t modify adjective, verb, or adverb in the main clause. It modifies the entire main clause. To quote An Introduction to English Syntax by Jim Miller: “The name ‘adverbial’ suggests that adverbial clauses modify verbs; but they modify whole clauses…”

Constituents of an adverb clause

Certain marker (or trigger) words start an adverb clause

In the examples so far, the adverb clauses started with words as if, when, because, and even though. These are marker words, also called subordinating conjunction, that introduce adverb clauses. Unlike noun clause and relative clause though, adverb clause has a much longer list of marker words.

Some of the common subordinating conjunctions that start an adverb clause are after, while, before, if, although, though, whereas, when, since, as, because, even if, in case, so that, unless, until, even though, and as long as. The entire list is much longer though.

An adverb clause is a dependent clause with its own subject and verb

Like all clauses, an adverb clause too has its own subject and verb. Adverb clause, however, is different from noun clause and relative clause in that its marker word can’t be its subject.

What does this imply? It implies that in adverb clause you’ll always find a subordinating conjunction followed by a noun or pronoun that functions as the subject of the clause. This is unlike noun and relative clause where this may or may not happen. Examples:

I lost the watch that you bought last month. [Relative clause with you as subject of the clause]

I lost the watch that hardly worked. [Relative clause with that as subject of the clause]

I don’t know what he is up to. [Noun clause with he as subject of the clause]

I don’t know what transpired in the meeting. [Noun clause with what as subject of the clause]

I went for shopping when I was free. [Adverb clause with I as subject of the clause. There will never be a case in which when or other subordinating conjunction will be the subject of the clause.]

Since the marker word in an adverb clause is never the subject of the clause, identifying subject and verb is easier in adverb clauses. Examples:

We were misled about the real worth of the company when we invested $ 50,000 in it.

Because the field was wet due to rain, the match was cancelled.

In the first sentence, we is the subject and invested is the verb of the adverb clause. And we is the subject and were misled is the verb of the main clause. In the second, the field is the subject and was is the verb of the adverb clause. And the match is the subject and was cancelled is the verb of the main clause. Learn more on the topic:

This is not an adverb clause though

Do these sentences contain an adverb clause?

Although still in recovery mode after the injury, Roger Federer is surprising even his fans with his performance.

I prepared my speech while having tea during the break.

I could not complete the assignment because of a four-hour power outage.

The underlined parts look like an adverb clause, but they aren’t. Why? That’s because they’re not even a clause; they’re phrase. None of them contains a verb.

These though are adverb clauses.

Although he is still in recovery mode after the injury, Roger Federer is surprising even his fans with his performance.

I prepared my speech while I was having tea during the break.

I could not complete the assignment because there was a four-hour power outage.

Here both are clauses but can you identify which is adverb clause.

The exam had already started when I reached the venue.

The exam had already started at the time when I reached the venue.

The first is an adverb clause of time, but the second is a relative clause describing the noun time. The three dependent clauses – noun, relative, and adverb – have quite a few common marker words, which can confuse people about which is which.

Here is a list of marker words common to two or more dependent clauses:

Marker words common to two or more dependent clauses

To use the above image, cite the link in the button (click to copy):

https://lemongrad.com/how-to-identify-noun-relative-and-adverb-clause/

An adverb clause can sometimes be reduced

Marker words in adverb clause, unlike in noun and relative clause, cannot be dropped. But adverb clause can be reduced. When subject of the adverb clause and the main clause is same, an adverb clause can sometimes be reduced to a phrase to make sentences more concise. Examples:

Since I took up this role, I’ve learnt so much. [Adverb clause]

Since taking up this role, I’ve learnt so much. [Adverb clause reduced to a phrase]

Because I was worried about another surge in Covid cases, I canceled my travel plans. [Adverb clause]

Worried about another surge in Covid cases, I canceled my travel plans. [Adverb clause reduced to a phrase]

An adverb clause though can be reduced only under certain conditions. Learn more on the topic:

An adverb clause can move around in a sentence

Adverb clauses, unlike noun clauses and relative clauses, are quite mobile in a sentence. They can come in front, middle, or end of a sentence. Examples:

Even though the product wasn’t completely ready, the company decided to launch it. [Front]

The company, even though the product wasn’t completely ready, decided to launch it. [Middle]

The company decided to launch the product, even though it wasn’t completely ready. [End]

Not all adverb clauses will fit in well in all three positions, but most can go in front as well as end, the two most common positions. Try with any example we’ve seen so far.

Because the field was wet due to rain, the match was cancelled. [Front]

The match was cancelled because the field was wet due to rain. [End]

Even though the shop was guarded, the thief made off with all the jewelry. [Front]

The thief made off with all the jewelry, even though the shop was guarded. [End]

Few subordinating conjunctions such as as if, as though, in order that, and so that though can come only after the main clause. For example, you can’t bring the adverb clause to the front position in these sentences.

Tom works the hardest so that he could rise in the hyper-competitive industry.

You look as though nothing has happened.

However, the end position gets more emphasis

Do you see any difference in the message conveyed by these two sentences?

Though the team played well, it lost.

The team lost though it played well.

They convey the same meaning but with different emphasis. The general principle of emphasis in a sentence says that what comes toward the end of the sentence gets more emphasis. Here is what Strunk and White mention in The Elements of Style: The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words that the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end.

The first sentence emphasizes the team’s loss, which is mentioned in the end, more than the second, portraying a more negative picture.

How to join an adverb clause to an independent clause?

Adverb clause is a dependent clause and therefore needs the support of an independent clause. There are some punctuation rules though on how they’re attached to an independent clause. Although comma is used to separate adverb clause from the main clause, you may occasionally see a dash, after all both fundamentally do the separation job.

1. When an adverb clause starts a sentence

When an adverb clause starts a sentence, it is always followed by a comma. Period.

Although damage to eye caused by glaucoma is irreversible, further damage can be stopped through surgery.

Once the exams are over, I can take it easy for few weeks.

Though uncommon, people make these errors.

Although, damage to eye caused by glaucoma is irreversible further damage can be stopped through surgery. [A comma after the subordinating conjunction]

Although, damage to eye caused by glaucoma is irreversible, further damage can be stopped through surgery. [A comma after the subordinating conjunction as well as the adverb clause]

Comma errors are rare when adverb clause starts a sentence but not so much in other positions.

2. When an adverb clause ends a sentence

When an adverb clause ends a sentence, it doesn’t take a comma but for few subordinating conjunctions such as although and even though that express contrast.

Nothing much was done while I was on leave.

My cat was hungry because it had not eaten since breakfast.

The house has few plumbing issues, even though it is newly built.

Two members of the selection committee voted in favor of the current captain – although three voted against him. [Dash can be used, but you should stick to comma as it is far more commonplace.]

3. When an adverb clause comes in the middle of a sentence

Though not common, an adverb clause can fall in the middle of a sentence. In such cases, it is set off by a pair of commas. Examples:

A relative pronoun, if you recall, joins one part of the sentence to another by referring to a noun.

But, as we saw earlier, in this role which functions as a determiner.

What happens in practice though?

In actual pieces of writing though, you’ll find two departures to above rules.

First, few writers and publications make their own style rules, and they use comma in general – and not as an exception – before the adverb clause in the end position. Few examples I’ve come across, mainly of because:

They can be more concise than a string of simple ones, because having a subject and main verb for each thought wastes words. First you write a sentence, Joe Moran

We may also reason that something has happened, because we see the results. The Elements of Style Workbook, William Strunk Jr.

Unless you’re a reputed writer or publication, it’s better to stick to widely-accepted rules, lest people think that you don’t know what you’re doing. And if you decide to break them, be consistent with your rule.

Second, when the main clause gets long, it’s common to see a comma before the adverb clause to clearly demarcate the boundary between the two clauses. In these sentences, for example, without a comma, readers may be overwhelmed with long stream of text.

The president of the university Mr. Mark Jansen held a meeting on Thursday to review Covid-19 situation in the university, after more than hundred students and several faculty members fell ill to the virus.

A long noun clause doesn’t need a comma to pause in between or immediately after, as the entire clause is functioning as subject of the independent clause.

Examples of different types of adverb clause

Here are examples of adverb clauses categorized under the questions they answer (or relationships they express). These are most common adverb clauses, but they by no means constitute an exhaustive list. There are many subordinating conjunctions, some of which will potentially introduce an adverb clause belonging to an altogether new category.

Each example contains a different subordinating conjunction. Few subordinating conjunctions such as since and when answer more than one type of questions and hence figure in more than one category. Most adverb clauses can go in the front or the end position.

1. Time

Adverb clause of time tells us about when something happens.

I ordered coffee after my friend arrived.

I saw him as I stepped out of the car. [This is the first role played by as.]

As soon as the teacher returned, the students took their seats and went mum.

Before I could think of an answer, the professor moved to another student with his question.

Just as we thought the pandemic was over, another mutant emerged. [This is the first role played by just as.]

Since the new strain of Covid virus has been detected, people have been curiously lapping up every information about it. [This is the first role played by since.]

I’m not going to leave till I meet him.

Until the lions produce their own historian, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter.

The passengers queued up to board when the train arrived. [This is the first role played by when.]

The magician distracted us whenever we got too inquisitive about his magic tricks.

The students made merry while the teacher was away. [This is the first role played by while.]

2. Place

Adverb clause of place tells us about where something happens.

Where there is no trust, there is no love.

Wherever he goes, trouble follows.

3. Reason

Adverb clause of reason tells us the reason behind what happens in the main clause

He was marked absent as he was too late. [This is the second role played by as.]

I decided not to visit them too often because a constant guest is never welcomed.

Since his promotion is due this year, he is slogging hard to bag few more deals for his division. [This is the second role played by since.]

4. Condition

Adverb clause of condition tells us the condition under which something happens.

As long as I stay healthy, I don’t bother about even major setbacks like losing money.

Assuming that the investment works, how much can we make potentially.

If you take care of important things in your life, other things will fall in place.

In case I don’t reach in time, you can start the meeting.

I’ll finish the task on time provided that no one disturbs me and no other work is given till then.

Office politics will continue so long as he heads this unit.

Unless you work in the trenches and learn nuts & bolts of the trade, your effectiveness in senior roles may be compromised.

Why should I buy a cow when milk is so cheap? [This is the second role played by when.]

Whether I pass or fail, I’ll not cheat.

5. Contrast or concession

Adverb clause of contrast, also called adverb clause of concession, contrasts one thing with another.

Although most industries showed precipitous decline in sales during initial months of Covid, online commerce boomed.

You can have a great career even if you don’t get into a top college.

Sooner or later, we forget bad events and misfortunes in our lives, even though the loss seems unbearable in the beginning.

Though the team played well, it lost.

Whereas African lions are found in the wild in more than twenty-five countries in Africa, Asiatic lions are confined to just one country, India.

While your performance has improved considerably, you need to work on few areas. [This is the second role played by while.]

6. Purpose

Adverb clause of purpose tells us the purpose of the main clause.

I didn’t switch on the lights lest I woke him up.

We work so that we can be meaningfully engaged and earn a living.

In order to beat the traffic and reach the airport on time, I left my place at 7 AM.

7. Result

Adverb clause of result, through that in combination of so and such, tells us something that results from the main clause.

In many countries, the wheels of justice move so slow that sometimes it takes decades to pronounce a judgment.

It was such bad news that no one in the room spoke about it.

8. Comparison

Adverb clause of comparison, also called comparative clause, compares two persons or things. It often starts with than, as, and like and is often preceded by comparative form of adjective or adverb.

The new technology will potentially create more problems than it will solve. [Comparative clauses are often elliptical. For example, in He is stronger than you (are), are can be left out, but it’ll be implied.]

Few can work on Excel as fast as you (can work on Excel). [can work on Excel can be left out.]

You finished the work faster than I had expected. [The clause is preceded by faster, comparative form of adverb fast]

9. Manner

Adverb clause of manner tells us how the action in the main clause is done or happens.

The match played out as I had expected. [This is the third role played by as.]

You look as though nothing has happened.

He pierced through the opposition and fired a goal as if there was no defence.

10. Degree

Adverb clause of degree expresses the degree to which something happens.

I contributed to the relief fund insofar as my financial condition allowed.

The fine will apply only inasmuch as any delay is caused due to contractor’s fault.

11. Similarity

Adverb clause of similarity show similarity between two ideas, things, or persons.

He is going through the drill just as he did last time. [This is the second role played by just as.]

How adverb clauses help your writing?

1. They make your writing precise and easy to follow

The main idea of a sentence is expressed by its independent clause(s). By subordinating one of the ideas in a sentence, an adverb clause leaves readers with just one main idea, making writing precise and easy to follow. This sentence, for example, conveys booming of online commerce during the pandemic as the main idea.

Although most industries showed precipitous decline in sales during the pandemic, online commerce boomed.

This sentence, however, conveys precipitous decline in sales of most industries as the main idea.

Although online commerce boomed during the pandemic, most industries showed precipitous decline in sales.

In contrast to the above two, this sentence conveys two main ideas because it contains two independent clauses.

Most industries showed precipitous decline in sales during the pandemic, but online commerce boomed.

One main idea per sentence is generally better for the readers, which is achieved by subordinating other ideas though dependent clauses, with adverb clause being one of them. In professional writing, you’ll find only few sentences with two independent clauses and rarely with more.

What’s the implication of one idea per sentence? The next sentence in line should ideally build on this main idea, and not the subordinate. The second sentence in each of the following extends the main information of the first to make it easier for the readers to follow.

Although most industries showed precipitous decline in sales during the pandemic, online commerce boomed. Amazon, for example, witnessed a spectacular 38 percent growth in revenue in 2020.

Although online commerce boomed during the pandemic, most industries showed precipitous decline in sales. Travel and hospitality industries were especially hit hard.

If a sentence contains two independent clauses, the next sentence can go in either direction.

Bottom line, adverb clauses make your writing precise by subordinating one information, making room for the other to become the sole key information, which in turn guides your next sentence.

2. They express wide variety of relationships

Adverb clauses help you express wide variety of relationships in your writing: time, place, reason, purpose, result, and many more. You won’t find such wide range of relationships and flexibility in use with any other tool. Coordinating conjunctions can express very limited range of relationships. Conjunctive adverbs have wider range than coordinating conjunctions, but they’re rigid in their movement within a sentence and they require independent clauses.

3. They help you punctuate correctly

Understanding punctuation in adverb clause will help you avoid the minor comma error many make. I’ve rarely seen people omitting a comma after a fronted adverb clause. However, many put an unnecessary comma before an adverb clause at the end of a sentence. As we discussed in punctuation rules, this is fine in cases where the subordinating conjunction expresses contrast but not otherwise.

Because I am too tired, I cannot get out of bed. [People mostly use this comma.]

I cannot get out of bed, because I am too tired. [Some erroneously use a comma here too even though none is required.]

Note that some publications use a comma when the adverb clause comes in the end. That’s a choice they deliberately make and are consistent about it.

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