Similar to the adverb and adverb phrases in grammatical function, an adverb clause is a dependent or subordinate clause that consists of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and that performs an adverbial function.
Conjunctions are “words that link words, phrases, and clauses.” A subordinating conjunction is a conjunction that introduces a subordinate or dependent clause. A subordinating conjunction that introduces an adverb clause is more specifically referred to as an adverbializer. Some of the adverbializers in English that introduce adverb clauses are:
- as if
- as long as
- as soon as
- as though
- even if
- even though
- if only
- in order that
- now that
- rather than
- so that
- When you turn left, I turn right.
- You can dance even if you think you cannot.
- Because I ate the bad cheese, I ended up in the emergency room with food poisoning.
- I will check food dates better lest I get sick again.
Additionally, adverb clauses may be either finite or nonfinite in form.
Finite Adverb Clauses
The first grammatical form of adverb clauses is the finite adverb clause. A finite adverb clause is an adverb clause that contains a finite, or conjugated, verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Finite verb phrases express person (first, second, third), number (singular, plural), and tense (present, past). For example, the following italicized adverb clauses are finite:
- I am happy whereas you are sad.
- While the storm raged, the baby slept.
- She will argue all night even if she is wrong.
- You could ace the test if only you would study.
- Although the lights turned on, the room was still dark.
- Because the wind knocked the power out, we had no internet.
The finite, or conjugated, verbs in the adverb clauses are are (second, singular/plural, present), raged (third, singular, past), is (third, singular, present), would study (second, singular/plural, past (modal)), turned (third, singular, past), and turned (third, singular, past).
Most English adverbs are finite.
Nonfinite Adverb Clauses
The second grammatical form of adverb clauses is the nonfinite adverb clause. A nonfinite adverb clause is an adverb clause that lacks a finite, or conjugated, verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Nonfinite verbs in English include base forms (verb), infinitives (to + verb), and present participles (verb-ing).
In English, a nonfinite adverb clause consists of a nonfinite verb that functions as the predicate and a null pronoun that functions as the subject. Nonfinite adverb clauses are also referred to as participial adverb clauses, reduced adverb clauses, and reduced adverbial clauses in English. For example, the following italicized adverb clauses are nonfinite:
- I have loved him since first meeting him.
- They worked on the project until completing it.
- The man drove his car while listening to music.
- Always check the expiration date before consuming any food.
- While packing my suitcase, I realized I had forgotten my toothbrush.
- Before starting her workday, she meditates for ten minutes and reviews her to-do list.
The nonfinite, or unconjugated, verbs in the adverb clauses are meeting, completing, listening, consuming, packing, and starting.
The subject of a nonfinite adverb clause is the null pronoun. The antecedent of the null pronoun is the subject of the main clause. In other words, the subject of the nonfinite adverb clause and main clause are semantically the same. A nonfinite adverb clause can be rewritten as a finite adverb clause. For example:
- I have loved him since I first met him.
- They worked on the project until they completed it.
- The man drove his car while he listened to music.
- Always check the expiration date before you consume any food.
- While I packed my suitcase, I realized I had forgotten my toothbrush.
- Before she starts her workday, she meditates for ten minutes and reviews her to-do list.
Using Adverb Clauses
Adverb clauses perform only one grammatical function within sentences in the English language: adjunct adverbial. An adjunct adverbial is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or describes an entire clause by providing additional information about time, place, manner, condition, purpose, reason, result, and concession. For example:
- After the cake cools, we will have some dessert.
- So that she would not ruin the carpet, she took off her muddy shoes.
- Although you gave your best effort, you did not pass the test.
- She graduated with honors because she worked hard.
- You will be late for work unless you hustle.
- He could buy a new car if he made the effort to save some money.
An adverb clause is a subordinate clause that performs an adverbial function and consists of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Adverb clauses function only as adjunct adverbials.
Adverb clauses in English grammar are subordinate or dependent clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction (adverbializer) followed by a clause and that perform adverbial grammatical functions.
Adverb clause is a grammatical form.
The only grammatical function performed by adverb clauses is adjunct adverbial.
Adverb clauses may be either finite or nonfinite. Finite adverb clauses contain conjugated verbs functioning as predicates. Nonfinite adverb clauses contain unconjugated verbs functioning as predicates.
For more information about adverb clauses, see A Form-Function Description of the Grammar of the Modern English Language: Book 1 (Level 8) of A Form-Function English Grammar.
This post was originally published on March 30, 2013 and updated on April 9, 2023.
Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kosur, Heather Marie. 2021. A Form-Function Description of the Grammar of the Modern English Language: Book 2 (Level 8). Rock Pickle Publishing.