Adverbs - Phrases and Clauses

More Shouting

SHOUTING time. Wake up! Again, learning this concept about chunks of words that act as nouns, adjectives, and now adverbs is crucial to your future as a writer.

So here it is again, the key concept: Other chunks of words, words that are not adverbs in and of themselves, will act as adverbs in your sentences, that is, they will perform the function of an adverb, which is to describe a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

I will introduce the primary chunks of words here, using terms we have yet to discuss in much detail. Just remember, the eight parts of speech are highly interrelated, so talking about adverbs, for example, often requires talking about prepositions and other parts of speech.

Also, keep this in mind: There are two main types of word chunks, clauses and phrases. A clause is a bunch of words with a conjugated verb in it. A phrase is a bunch of words without a conjugated verb in it.

Phrases Acting as Adverbs

Many phrases in our language can serve the role of adverbs. If you diagramed sentences in your youth, you’ll no doubt recall putting the phrases under the words they modified. Here’s a list of the most prevalent phrases that act as adverbs, along with examples. Notice that the phrase can appear in a variety of places in the sentence. Note also that the adverb sometimes modifies the larger thought anchored by the verb. In the examples, the adverbial phrase appears in bold, the verb or larger thought in bold italic.

 Phrase Acting as an  Adverb  Example
1. prepositional phrase John ran down the street.
In the morning, John ran a mile.
2. present-participial phrase
(-ing phrase)
A man does weird things facing death.
3. infinitive phrase
(to phrase)
He was talking to hear himself talk. (Mark Twain)
To achieve her goal, the student studied daily.


Clauses Acting as Adverbs

Clauses also act adverbially. A dependent clause might show when, where, why, how, or under what circumstance a verbal activity takes place. These dependent clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions such as after, although, as, as if, as long as, as though, because, before, how, if, in order that, provided that, since, so (that), though, till, unless, until, what, whatever, when, whenever, where, wherever, while, and others.

Don’t panic. If you don’t know about subordinating conjunctions now, you will soon, for we discuss them in the Parts of Speech section Conjunctions - Words That Join.

Here are some examples. Notice that the dependent adverbial clause can come before or after the main clause. Again, the adverbial clause appears in bold, the verb or larger thought in bold italic.

Clause Acting as Adverb Example
1. dependent clause at the end. You will not write a good novel unless you possess a sense of reality . . . .  (Henry James)
2. dependent clause at the beginning. Because the civilization of ancient Rome perished in consequence of the invasion of the Barbarians, we are  perhaps too apt to think that civilization cannot perish
in any other manner. (Alexis de Tocqueville)
3. dependent clause in the middle. His mother, though he never really said so, found it difficult to understand him.


Previous: 4. What Are the Comparative and Superlative Forms?
Next: A Summary of Adverbs

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