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A group a Spanish learners of English have written with the following question:

Hello! We are Spanish students and we want to find out all we can about adverbials in English with explanations and examples.

Roger Woodham replies:

An adverbial is an adverb, adverbial phrase or adverbial clause which gives us additional information about e.g. the time, place, or manner of the action which is described in the rest of the sentence:

  • We have been living here in this house for over twenty years.

  • We were sleeping peacefully in our beds when the earthquake struck.

From these examples, you can see that the most common position for adverbials is at the end of the sentence Place adverbials (here in this house) come before time adverbials (for over twenty years). Manner adverbials (peacefully) come before place adverbials (in our beds).

They do not always follow this pattern. This applies particularly to adverbial clauses. In the above example we could begin with the adverbial clause, if it was important to highlight it at this stage in the discourse:

  • When the earthquake struck, we were sleeping peacefully in our beds.

Thus, adverbials answer questions such as:

Where? When? How? Why?
How often? How long? How much?

Where did you arrange to meet him? ~
I arranged to meet him outside the bank.

Why did you arrange to meet him there?
So that he could give me the money.

How long did you wait for him?
I waited for half an hour but he didn't arrive.

When did you first meet him?
We first met when he became the manager of the bank.

How often
have you been seeing him since then?
Once a week, usually. More frequently, if his wife was away.

Note from the above examples that adverbs of frequency are often placed in mid-position in the sentence, as well as at end-position. Placing them before the subject is sometimes also possible:

  • I sometimes call on my younger sister when I'm in London
  • I never see my older sister, but occasionally I call my younger sister.
  • Yes I see her from time to time. We get together once in a blue moon.

adverbial clauses

A wide variety of different conjunctions are used to initiate adverbial clauses which function as the adverbial part of a main clause. Some of the most common are listed below:

time:   when, after, before, as soon as
reason:   because, since, as
purpose:   so that, in order to
contrast:   although, whereas
comparison:   as if, as though
condition:   if, provided (that), so long as, in case
  • We served drinks as soon as our friends arrived.
    After we had eaten, we played cards.

  • We moved to Cornwall because we wanted to live in the countryside. As the winters in the north east can be quite harsh, we decided to move to the south west.

  • I finished work early in order to catch the 4.30 train.
    I left work early so that I could catch the 4.30 train.

  • When I arrived home I went to see Joan although it was very late. Whereas in the 70s and 80s most men worked until they were 60 or 65, nowadays most retire when they are in their fifties.

  • He shook my hand warmly as if / as though he had known me for years.

  • You can borrow my car on Saturday, provided / so long as you return it by seven o' clock in the evening.
    Take a packed lunch with you, in case you get hungry.

adverbs of manner

Note that not all adverbs of manner which answer the question How…? end in -ly. Most of them do, like this:

  • How did they sleep? ~ They slept peacefully

  • How well does she dance ~ She dances sublimely

But common exceptions include:

hard fast straight late

  • He worked hard in order to pass the exam

  • He was driving straight at me and I ran very fast to get out of his way.

  • There was a power failure earlier today and the trains are all running late now.

Note also that adjectives that end in -ly, e.g. lively, lovely silly, friendly, cannot form the adverb by adding another -ly as this would be impossible to pronounce. Instead some other way must be found:

  • He behaved in such a silly way I was ashamed of him
    Surprisingly, they were dancing in a very lively manner at the over 60s disco.

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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