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Literary & Compositional Tools » Sentence Structure » Adverb Clauses

Adverb Clauses Adverb Clauses


Participial phrases, appositive phrases, and adjective clauses. All three tools modify or describe nouns.

Adverb clauses differ because they add information about the verb, or main action, in a sentence.

They tell when the action happened. How the action happened. Why the action happened. Where the action happened. And the situation or conditions under which the action happened.

Consider the following examples (adverb clauses in red):

Before his mother arrived, Samuel went to Walmart to purchase cleaning supplies because his cat had thrown up in the guest bedroom. (The first tells you when he went and the second tells you why he went.)

Although he should have known better, Alex told his mother to call him whenever she needed help with her computer. (The first tells the conditions under which he told her and the second tells when she should call.)


Target a verb in a sentence.

The captain walked across the deck.

Then, consider other information that could be told about that verb.

Where did he walk across the deck?
When did he walk across the deck?
Why did he walk across the deck?
Under what conditions or situation did he walk across the deck?
How did he walk across the deck?
With what goal or purpose did he walk across the deck?

To create an adverb clause, simply answer one of the questions. Be sure that your answer contains a subject and a verb as both are needed to write a clause. Use one of the adverb clause starter words given below if you need help or ideas.

As the mid-day sun burned in the sky, the captain walked across the deck. (WHEN he walked....)

Although his body ached with the scurvy, the captain walked across the deck in order that his crew keep their hopes alive. (UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS he walked... WHY he walked....)

Soon after another ship appeared on the horizon, the captain walked across the deck to survey his crew's preparedness before the inevitable battle began. (WHEN he walked... WHEN he surveyed....)

The captain walked across the deck
as if he were an emperor among slaves.  (HOW he walked...)


A clause is a group of words with both a subject and a verb. A phrase is a group of words. It may have a subject. Or, it may have a verb. But, it will NOT have both.

Adverb phrases look like adverb clauses, but they do not have both a subject and a verb.


After the game (adverb phrase)
After the game ended (adverb clause)

while trying to get home (adverb phrase)
while he tried to get home (adverb clause)

while screaming at his sister (adverb phrase)
while he screamed at his sister (adverb clause)

Before school (adverb phrase)
Before school started (adverb clause)

Adverb phrases are just as good as adverb clauses; however, young writers tend not to use adverb clauses as often. For this reason, your teacher will often specify what tool to use. Be sure that you can recognize the difference between an adverb clause and an adverb phrase!


This list is thorough but not complete.

as soon as
as long as


even if
in case
provided that

Concession and Comparison
as though
even though
just as

in order that
so that


Please read the following explanations, with examples, written by professional grammarians.


Adverb Clauses

Written by David Megginson

An adverb clause is a dependent clause which takes the place of an adverb in another clause or phrase. An adverb clause answers questions such as "when?", "where?", "why?", "with what goal/result?", and "under what conditions?".

Note how an adverb clause can replace an adverb in the following example:

The premier gave a speech here.
adverb clause
The premier gave a speech where the workers were striking.

Usually, a subordinating conjunction like "because," "when(ever)," "where(ever)," "since," "after," and "so that," will introduce an adverb clause. Note that a dependent adverb clause can never stand alone as a complete sentence:

independent clause
they left the locker room
dependent adverb clause
after they left the locker room

The first example can easily stand alone as a sentence, but the second cannot -- the reader will ask what happened "after they left the locker room". Here are some more examples of adverb clauses expressing the relationships of cause, effect, space, time, and condition:

Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle because the uncle had murdered Hamlet's father.

The adverb clause answers the question "why?".

Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle so that his father's murder would be avenged.

The adverb clause answers the question "with what goal/result?".

After Hamlet's uncle Claudius married Hamlet's mother, Hamlet wanted to kill him.

The adverb clause answers the question "when?". Note the change in word order -- an adverb clause can often appear either before or after the main part of the sentence.

Where the whole Danish court was assembled, Hamlet ordered a play in an attempt to prove his uncle's guilt.

The adverb clause answers the question "where?".

If the British co-operate, the Europeans may achieve monetary union.

The adverb clause answers the question "under what conditions?"



Adverbs, adverb phrases, and adverb clauses


Look at these sentences:

I saw the movie yesterday.
I saw the movie on Friday.
I saw the movie before I left for Calgary.

In the first sentence, "yesterday" is a one-word adverb, "on Friday" is an adverb phrase, and "before I left for Calgary" is a adverb clause. All of them answer the question "When?", but the adverb clause has a subject ("I") and a full verb ("left"). It is introduced by "before", so it is a dependent clause. This means that it cannot stand alone: "Before I left for Calgary" would not be a full sentence. It needs a main clause ("I saw the movie"). An adverb clause, then, is a dependent clause that does the same job as an adverb or an adverb phrase.

Types of adverb clause

There are many types of adverb clauses. Here are some examples of the most common types:

Question answered
Wherever there are computers, there is Microsoft software.
After the fruit is harvested, it is sold at the market.
Why? (What caused this?)
I didn't call her because I'm shy.
Why? (What was the reason for doing this?)
She took a computer course so that she could get a better job.
Why is this unexpected?
Although Jay has a Master's degree, he works as a store clerk.
Under what conditions?
If you save your money, you will be able to go to college.


Arranging Adverb Clauses



An adverb clause, like an ordinary adverb, can be shifted to different positions in a sentence. It may be placed at the beginning, at the end, or occasionally even in the middle of a sentence.

An adverb clause commonly appears after the main clause:

Jill and I waited inside the Cup-A-Cabana Diner until the rain stopped.

However, if the action described in the adverb clause precedes the action in the main clause, it is logical to place the adverb clause at the beginning:

When Gus asked Merdine for a light, she set fire to his toupee.

Placing an adverb clause at the beginning can help to create suspense as the sentence builds toward a main point:

As I shuffled humbly out the door and down the front steps, my eyes to the ground, I felt that my pants were baggy, my shoes several sizes too large, and the tears were coursing down either side of a huge putty nose.
(Peter DeVries, Let Me Count the Ways)

When working with two adverb clauses, you may want to place one in front of the main clause and the other behind it:

When a bus skidded into a river just outside of New Delhi, all 78 passengers drowned because they belonged to two separate castes and refused to share the same rope to climb to safety.

Punctuation Tips:

  • When an adverb clause appears at the beginning of a sentence, it is usually separated from the main clause by a comma.
  • A comma is usually not necessary when the adverb clause follows the main clause.

An adverb clause can also be placed inside a main clause, usually between the subject and verb:

The best thing to do, when you've got a dead body on the kitchen floor and you don't know what to do about it, is to make yourself a good strong cup of tea.
(Anthony Burgess, One Hand Clapping)

This middle position, though not a particularly common one, can be effective as long as the reader doesn't lose track of the idea in the main clause.

Punctuation Tip:

  • An adverb clause that interrupts a main clause, as shown in the example above, is usually set off by a pair of commas.

Reducing Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses, like adjective clauses (see Building Sentences with Appositives), can sometimes be shortened to phrases:

  • If your luggage is lost or destroyed, it should be replaced by the airline.
  • If lost or destroyed, your luggage should be replaced by the airline.

The second sentence has been shortened by omitting the subject and the verb is from the adverb clause. It is just as clear as the first sentence and more concise. Adverb clauses can be shortened in this way only when the subject of the adverb clause is the same as the subject of the main clause.

Editing Tip:

  • To cut the clutter from your writing, reduce adverb clauses to phrases when the subject of the adverb clause is the same as the subject of the main clause.

Edward Wevodau
Colleyville Heritage High School
5401 Heritage Avenue
Colleyville, TX 76034