Adverbial Sentences, Phrases, and Clauses

Adverbial Sentences

Adverbial Sentences are sentences that start with an adverb. This may seem easy to understand at a first glance. After all, starting sentences with adverbs is something we do all the time! Take a look at these two sentences:

  • She crept up the stairs slowly.
  • Slowly, she crept up the stairs.

The first sentence places emphasis on the action of creeping up the stairs. 

The second sentence places emphasis on how she crept up the stairs. This can help build suspense and is good nutrition for fiction writing.

Where it gets tricky is with adverbs of time. For instance, “yesterday” is an adverb, because it modifies when the verb happened. Typically, one would start an adverbial phrase as I have done with this very sentence: with an adverb, and then a comma. However, with adverbs of time, this is not always necessary.

Take a look at this sentence, and then reimagine it without the comma:

  • Eagerly, I started to eat.

Without the comma, the sentence feels almost rushed and unnatural. Juxtapose that with this sentence:

  • Eventually I’ll go to the store.

“Eventually” here is an adverb, modifying “will go”. There is no comma necessary here, possibly because in speech, there wouldn’t be a need for a pause. 

Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial Phrases are two or more words acting together as an adverb that modifies the main clause of a sentence. They can be made up of modifying words or even two adverbs. Typically, these are created with the addition of a qualifier or intensifier to the core adverb. 


  • I got to school very quickly.
  • The cat fell off the wall somewhat clumsily.

Here we see that there is a word describing the adverb, which in turn describes the clause. “Very quickly” acts as an adverb to “got”, but “very” modifies “quickly”, which in whole modifies “got”. 

Adverbial Phrases also include prepositional phrases such as “in the morning” or infinitive phrases such as “to claim a prize”. 


  • He went to the lottery office to claim a prize.
  • I will meet you at the park in the morning.

Quite peculiarly (this is also an adverbial phrase), you may notice that there are no specific adverbs in these Adverbial Phrases. In these instances, one does not need a specific adverb because the phrase itself acts as the adverb, modifying the verb and clause.

Here, “to claim a prize” modifies “went” as a reason, and “in the morning” modifies “meet” as a time. Common categories for Adverbial Phrases are: Manner; Place; Purpose; and Time. 

We can see that going “to claim a prize” describes the purpose of the conjugated “to go” (here: went) and thus acts as the adverb. The same thing can be seen with “in the morning”, describing the time of the verb “meet”.

Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial Clauses are clauses* containing a subject and a verb that act as an adverb. Connecting these clauses to the main sentence is usually a subordinating conjunction** such as “because”, “if”, “before”, “although”, and “since”. These clauses are always dependent (meaning they cannot stand alone as a sentence).


  • I drove as fast as I could.
  • She will be here soon if she catches the next bus.

Here we see the Adverbial Clauses of “as fast as I could” and “if she catches the next bus”. In the former’s case, we see that there is a subject (I) and a verb (could (this is a modal verb***)) that link with the descriptor of Manner to create a descriptor for the verb “drove”. In the latter, we see that the subject (she) and verb (catches/to catch) are present, with the descriptor of “the next bus” and the subordinating conjunction of “if”, to create a descriptor of conditionality for “will be”. There are several descriptor types for Adverbial Clauses, some of which include:

  • Manner
  • Place
  • Purpose
  • Time
  • Conditionality

* A Clause is a group of linked words containing a subject and a verb. They can be dependent (unable to stand alone) or independent (able to stand alone, usually with an object present). 

** A Subordinating Conjunction is a word or phrase that links a dependent clause with an independent clause. Usually creates a cause-and-effect type of relationship, or it indicates that there is a shift in time between the two clauses. Typically a comma is included before the usage of a Subordinating Conjunction.

*** A Modal Verb is a verb that shows possibility, intent, ability, or necessity. Think: can, could, should, and must. They are also referred to as auxiliary verbs (i.e. “helper verbs”) because they modify the meaning of the sentence in relationship to the verb. These verbs are attached to the infinitive form of the main verb in the sentence (“I can go to the store” is the only way to write this sentence correctly; any other form of “to go” would be incorrect). 


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