The adverb clause is different from a noun or adjective clause in that it does not take a position within the independent clause, nor does it modify a noun. The adverb clause represents a relationship between the independent clause and the subordinate clause, thereby acting as an adverb to the main verb of the independent clause, or an adjective therein. These relationships can answer questions about time, reason, cause, condition, contrast, concession, effect, comparison, manner, or place.
Similar to the other two dependent clause types, the adverb clause contains a subject and a verb, and begins with a conjunction. Some of these clauses may be reduced to an adverbial participle phrase. Here are some of the commonly used adverb conjunctions:
Although, when, after, if, as long as, as, since, because, while, so that, until, though, whereas, whether, unless, as if, etc.
A quick note on punctuation: a sentence that begins with an adverb clause will have a comma following the clause. If the adverb clause follows the independent clause, however, the use of the comma depends on the context; if it immediately follows a verb, then no comma is necessary; if there is a distance between the two points being related, a comma is usually necessary:
Ex: Although he went out of his way to help the team, his efforts were not recognized when it came time to reward the members with promotions and bonuses. – This sentence has two adverb clauses. The first is followed by a comma since it precedes the independent clause. The second follows from the independent clause without a comma.
However, if there is a phrase between the end of the independent clause and the beginning of the adverb clause, then a comma may be necessary to show that the adverb clause is in relation to the whole preceding clause, including the phrase:
Ex: The opposition leaders, who themselves did not have the complete trust of the protestors, arrived at the Square to speak directly to the masses gathered there, while the incumbents felt a little distance would be the safer choice under the circumstances. – The adverb clause in this sentence (while the incumbents felt a little distance would be the safer choice) is too far removed from the independent clause (The opposition leaders arrived at the Square) and so needs a comma to show that the relationship (contrast) reflects on the entire preceding elements.
Now let’s look at the different relationships associated with adverb clauses:
– Although, though, even though, whereas, while
These adverb clauses signify that what is expected from the independent clause (in terms of result) is not what in fact occurs. In this way, there is a contrast between expectation and actualization of the action or situation in the sentence. As a concession (a concession is an acknowledgment of the strength or truth of an opposing argument or situation), these clauses signify that while the expectation was not reached, there was an effort to reach it.
Ex: Though he studied for weeks before the exam, James wasn’t able to obtain a high enough score to get into the college. – contrast: hard studies… not high score; concession: he did try hard, which suggests that he didn’t fail because of a lack of effort.
Many children of working-class families are encouraged to learn a skill with which to secure their livelihood in the future, whereas children of professionals are encouraged to pursue higher levels of studies. – This clause compares children from two different socio-economic backgrounds, thus marking a contrast.
While no one will argue that cigarettes are highly detrimental to human health, there are still many who argue that they are nevertheless beneficial to the economy. – concession: one argument is true, but another argument is equally true and needs to be discussed.
– if, unless, as long as, (when)
These clauses suggest that for the action or situation in the independent clause to hold true or be possible, the conditions set in the adverb clause must first be met. In other words, the independent clause depends on the conditions set in the adverb clause. For X to be true (independent clause), Y (adverb clause) must also be true, or be true first. It does not make any difference which clause appears first in the sentence.
Ex: A true democratic process can only occur if all members of the group participate in the election of its leaders. Unless a substantial majority of this electorate becomes somehow involved in this decision making, the opportunity for exploitation increases dramatically, thus weakening the entire concept of a government by the people.
Condition: all members of the group participate Result: true democratic process
Condition: a substantial majority of this electorate does not become somehow involved Result: the opportunity for exploitation increases dramatically
As long as we’re already in Paris, why don’t we go visit the Louvre for a couple of hours?
Condition: in Paris Result: have a chance to visit the Louvre – The context of this sentence might be a stopover on a train journey, with some free time between trains such that the speaker feels there is enough time to visit the museum.
When: Although the conjunction when is mostly used to show a time relationship, it is often understood as a conditional in certain contexts. More specifically, when we want to suggest that a condition is sure to be met, or is usually met, we use the conjunction when rather than if.
Ex: If you see Jack, ask him to call me. – You might see Jack. In this case (if you do), ask him…
When you see Jack, ask him to call me. – I am sure that you will see Jack at some point (when you do). At the time this happens, ask him…
– before, after, while, as, since, when, until, as soon as, once, whenever
These clauses are as straightforward as the heading suggests: they relate events/situations in time. The area that often gives English learners trouble and that you should keep an eye out for is the relationship between the verbs of the two clauses, as the conjunction will often arrange the events in some chronological order that may necessitate the use of particular tenses.
Ex: While the tech was running routine diagnostics on the equipment, Doctor Lee ran her own tests of the programs on her laptop. – This sentence combines a past continuous tense with a past simple tense, a relationship commonly used with when or while conjunctions.
Once the impurities are removed, the liquid is ready to be poured into the holding tank. – Generally, present simple tenses are used together when discussing general truths, and processes.
Thomas had been a corporate CEO before he was fired and changed career paths. – When events happen in sequence, make sure to use verbs that reflect that order, such as by using the past perfect tense.
After all the efforts we’d gone through to try to secure the deal, our main competitor simply walked in and offered more money to seal it.
Although she started practicing Law as soon as she graduated from university, Henrietta had never been offered a partnership in a Law firm until just recently.
Whenever you’re feeling down, call me.
What do you want to be when you grow up, Jacky?
– because, since, as
These clauses demonstrate a cause and effect relationship, or simply provide a reason for the action/situation in the independent clause.
Ex: The presiding judge disallowed the evidence since it was obtained by illegal means and was therefore a violation of the accused’s rights to a fair trial.
As the demand for foreign currency rose in response to the protests, the government moved to allow the banks to sell more dollars in an attempt to counter the fast-growing black market. – In this example, as may be used to show a cause for the government’s action, or a timeline for this action.
Because the storm’s reach was far wider than expected, many smaller municipalities were forced to petition the state government for assistance to help with the cleanup, both in terms of personnel and funding.
Note: Be aware that because of is a prepositional phrase that is followed by an object to the preposition of. The above sentence can thus be rewritten: Because of the storm’s wide reach, many smaller municipalities were forced to ….
– as, as…as,
When demonstrating similarities between things, people, events, etc., we can use the adverb conjunctions as, or as…as to show similarities in actions only. It is important to note that while things themselves can be compared with each other, using the preposition like, or the preposition as, comparisons with as as an adverb conjunction are used to discuss verbs.
Ex: He is as tall as Sarah, his sister. – This sentence does not contain an adverb clause. Here, as…as is used as a comparative preposition. There is no adverb clause because there is no subject-verb combination other than the one in the independent clause.
She wants to find a position like her friend Daisy’s in a multinational corporation. –This sentence also does not contain an adverb clause. There is only the subject-verb combination of the independent clause. Like is a comparative preposition. Daisy’s, in this sentence, is a possessive pronoun, where Daisy’s means Daisy’s position.
Here are a couple of examples of adverb clauses using as:
Ex: Scott joined the Marines soon after his 18th birthday, just as his brother had, and just as his father had before him. – In this sentence, Scott’s action is compared to that of his brother’s and father’s actions in the past.
Ms. Haley, I’m afraid this letter contains too many errors. Here is a list of the necessary corrections. Next time, please type as carefully as you can to avoid these. – In this sentence, the as …as adverb clause demonstrates the manner (how?) in which Ms. Haley needs to work (type) in the future.
Note: When using the conjunction as, it is common in formal writing to use an inverted sentence structure in the adverb clause. The above sentence can thus be rewritten: Scott joined the Marines soon after his 18th birthday, as had his brother and father before him.
– so that
First, let’s begin by addressing the difference between so that and so: so that is an adverb clause conjunction that relates the subordinate clause to the independent clause in terms of the effect of the action in the independent clause. In other words, what occurs in the adverb clause is a direct result of the action of the independent clause, or, cause……effect. So is a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses. The relationship between these is one of action/counter-action, or situation/response.
The main difference, therefore, between the two is intent. With so that, the action in the independent clause is done for the purpose of effecting the result in the adverb clause. In other words, we want the result/effect. With so, there is a continuation of one action/situation with a response.
Ex: I worked extra hours this week so that I could take the weekend off to go see a concert with my friends. – In this sentence, I worked extra hours for the purpose of getting the weekend off. I wanted the extra hours.
I worked extra hours this week, so my boss gave me the weekend off to spend time with my friends. – In this sentence, I worked the extra hours (maybe because it’s a busy time of year and my boss asked me to work extra hours) and as a result of my hard work, my boss rewarded me. The weekend off was his response to my actions; it was not my personal intent.
Note: so that is often reduced (that is removed) to so only:
Ex: Fred worked longer days than usual this month so (that) his boss would consider him for a promotion at his upcoming review.
To know which so is being used (coordinating or reduced adverb conjunction), make sure you understand the relationship between the clauses.
– where, wherever
The relationship here is straightforward: it is one of place.
Ex: You can run, but you can’t hide. I’ll find you wherever you go.
Jane found the keys exactly where Kate said they would be.
Keep in mind that a sentence may have multiple subordinate clauses, including multiple clauses of the same type:
Ex: As it had always been his dream to visit Fiji before he retired, Justin gave up his annual vacation time for a few years when he was in his forties so that he could save enough money and paid vacation time to take a two-month trip to the island.
Note: While this sentence is grammatically correct, and each adverb clause relates to the independent clause or another adverb clause, it is not a very good idea to write sentences such as these, as it is very easy to lose control and turn them into run-on sentences, or simply confusing ones for the reader. Do this only if you feel you have control over the links between clauses. See the next section, embedded clauses, for more on this