Understanding sentence structure and various types of clauses is critical to mastering English grammar. One of the elements that can make your speech and writing more nuanced and informative is the use of adverb clauses. But what exactly is an adverb clause? How do you use it? What rules should you follow? This article aims to answer these questions in detail for those of you who are looking to improve your command over the English language.
What is a Clause?
Before diving into adverb clauses, let’s quickly understand what a clause is. A clause is a part of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb. For example, in the sentence “She sings because she is happy,” “She sings” and “she is happy” are both clauses. “She” is the subject of each clause and “sings” and “is” are the verbs. The word “happy” functions as a subject complement.
What is an Adverb Clause?
An adverb clause is a dependent clause that functions as an adverb within a sentence. This means it can modify a verb, an adjective, or even another adverb. An adverb clause answers questions such as:
- under what conditions?
- When the clock strikes twelve, Cinderella will leave the ball.
- Here, the adverb clause “When the clock strikes twelve” modifies the verb “will leave,” providing information about the timing of the action.
- Because she studied hard, she passed the exam.
- The adverb clause “Because she studied hard” modifies the verb “passed,” explaining the reason for the action. In other words, it tells us why she passed.
- While you were out, your friend called.
- In this example, “While you were out” is the adverb clause that modifies the verb “called,” providing the timing of the call. In other words, it tells us when this friend called.
- She is sad because her cat is sick.
- Here, the adverb clause “because her cat is sick” modifies the adjective “sad,” providing the reason for her emotional state.
- The novel is engaging since it has a captivating plot.
- The adverb clause “since it has a captivating plot” modifies the adjective “engaging,” explaining why the novel is worth reading.
- She quickly finished her work so that she could go out.
- In this sentence, “so that she could go out” modifies the adverb “quickly,” explaining the urgency behind her quick action.
- He drove cautiously when it started raining.
- The adverb clause “when it started raining” modifies the adverb “cautiously,” indicating the conditions under which he chose to drive cautiously.
By using adverb clauses appropriately, you can add depth and layers of meaning to your sentences. This is particularly useful when you’re looking to express complex ideas clearly and concisely.
Starting Adverb Clauses with Subordinating Conjunctions
Adverb clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions. Common subordinating conjunctions include: although, because, since, unless, while, when, and if.
- She runs because she loves it.
- Here, “because” is the subordinating conjunction that introduces the adverb clause “because she loves it.” This word shows that the dependent clause will contain a reason for something in the independent clause.
- Although he was tired, he finished his homework.
- “Although” introduces the adverb clause “Although he was tired,” which provides contrast to the main action “he finished his homework.”
- She has been jogging every morning since she moved to the city.
- Here, “since” introduces the adverb clause “since she moved to the city,” explaining the time frame during which she has been jogging.
- Unless it rains, we will go for a hike tomorrow.
- “Unless” starts the adverb clause “Unless it rains,” providing the condition under which the main action “we will go for a hike tomorrow” will not happen.
- While I was cooking, the phone rang.
- In this example, “while” introduces the adverb clause “While I was cooking,” indicating when the phone rang.
- Call me when you get home.
- The adverb clause “when you get home,” initiated by “when,” indicates the time at which to call.
- You will succeed if you work hard.
- Here, “if” starts the adverb clause “if you work hard,” presenting the condition for success.
These examples demonstrate the versatility and functionality of adverb clauses in providing additional details to a sentence. Understanding how to use these subordinating conjunctions effectively can help you become more expressive in English.
Note: It is essential that you know the difference between a subordinating conjunction and a conjunctive adverb. It is explained in that links article and also in this video:
Types of Adverb Clauses
These clauses provide information about the time of an action. They usually start with words like when, before, after, since, while, and as.
- After he had dinner, he read a book.
- As soon as the movie ended, people started leaving the theatre.
- The time clause “As soon as the movie ended” informs us about the precise moment people began to leave.
- Since you left, things have never been the same.
- Here, “Since you left” serves as a time clause indicating the starting point for a change, introduced by the word “since.”
- While she is studying, please do not disturb her.
- “While she is studying” is a time clause that tells us the period during which disturbances should be avoided.
- Before you go to bed, make sure to lock the doors.
- This time clause “Before you go to bed” sets a time frame by which the doors should be locked.
These clauses provide information about the place where an action occurs and usually begin with words like where or wherever.
- Put the keys where you will remember.
- Where the river bends, you’ll find a small fishing village.
- In this example, “Where the river bends” is a place clause indicating the location of the fishing village.
- Store the medicine where the children can’t reach.
- Here, “where the children can’t reach” serves as a place clause specifying a safe location for storing medicine.
- Leave the package where the recipient will see it.
- In this case, “where the recipient will see it” is a place clause that describes an ideal spot for leaving the package so that it will be noticed.
- She reads wherever there is good light.
- “Wherever there is good light” is a place clause that isn’t fixed to one location but instead describes any place with good lighting conditions.
These clauses explain the reason or cause for an action and often begin with words like because, as, or since.
- He was late because he missed the bus.
- Because she felt ill, she decided to stay home.
- Here, “Because she felt ill” serves as a reason clause explaining why she decided to stay home.
- As it’s your birthday, you can choose the restaurant.
- In this example, “As it’s your birthday” serves as a reason clause providing the justification for why you get to choose the restaurant.
- She was promoted since she had outstanding performance reviews.
- “Since she had outstanding performance reviews” is a reason clause that explains the cause of her promotion.
- The match was cancelled because of heavy rainfall.
- In this case, “because of heavy rainfall” is a reason clause describing why the match was cancelled.
Rules for Using Adverb Clauses
Position in a Sentence
Adverb clauses can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of sentences. When at the beginning, they are usually separated by a comma. (You can learn about comma rules here.)
Beginning of the Sentence:
- When he arrived, we were eating.
- In this example, the adverb clause “When he arrived” is placed at the beginning of the sentence and separated from the main clause by a comma.
- Because she loves animals, Jane volunteers at the shelter every weekend.
- Here, “Because she loves animals” comes first and is separated from the main clause by a comma.
Middle of the Sentence:
- Jane, who is always diligent, finished her assignment early.
- The adverb clause “who is always diligent” is inserted in the middle of the sentence to provide additional information about Jane.
- The athlete, although he was injured, managed to finish the race.
- “Although he was injured” appears in the middle and is offset by commas.
End of the Sentence:
- He took an umbrella because it was raining.
- “Because it was raining” is an adverb clause positioned at the end of the sentence.
- She felt happy when she saw her grades.
- The adverb clause “when she saw her grades” appears at the end, adding information about the timing of her happiness.
Since adverb clauses are dependent clauses, they cannot stand alone as sentences. They must be connected to an independent clause. Any dependent clause that is left to function by itself is a sentence fragment, which is a major grammatical mistake.
- Incorrect: Although it was raining. (Fragment)
- Correct: Although it was raining, we had fun.
Make sure the adverb clause adds necessary detail and isn’t repetitive.
- Incorrect: He left the party because he was tired and exhausted.
- Correct: He left the party because he was tired.
This article explains how to avoid repetition.
Pay attention to tense agreement between your main clause and your adverb clause.
- Correct: She will call you when she arrives.
- Incorrect: She will call you when she will arrive.
Learn all about subject-verb disagreement here.
Adverb clauses are an essential part of English grammar that can enhance both your writing and speech by adding depth and detail. By understanding the basic rules and types of adverb clauses, you can become more expressive and accurate in your use of the English language.
Remember, practice makes perfect. As such, the next time you’re writing or speaking, try incorporating adverb clauses to see how they can make your language more nuanced and effective.