Adverbial

Subjects, Direct Objects and Indirect Objects are typically noun phrases  (and sometimes clauses) which identify participants in the situation described by the main verb – they answer ‘who’ or ‘what’ questions.

Adverbials are rather different. Consider the highlighted phrases in the examples below:

We can look first at meaning. What kinds of meanings do the Adverbials contribute to the clauses? What questions do they answer? See if you can work this out for each example which follows.

Example Meaning
  • And I met this Australian in London. [S1A-050 #6]
Place: ‘Where?’
  • I felt so ill this morning. [S1A-040 #135]
Time: ‘When?’
  • But Great Britain started off very confidently. [S2A-004 #119]
Manner: ‘How?’

We can see that Adverbials typically specify some circumstance of the situation described in the clause – such as where, when, how or why it happens.

What about form? What form does the Adverbial take in each example?

Example Form
  • in London
preposition phrase
  • this morning
noun phrase
  • very confidently
adverb phrase
  • because it was so dreadful
subordinate clause

Many different types of phrases and clauses can perform the role of Adverbial.

Here are some further examples which show that Adverbials can express various other kinds of meaning as well as time, place, manner and reason.

In the examples we’ve seen, Adverbials occur in various different positions in the clause. Some Adverbials are quite flexible about their position.

Notice how the Adverbials in the examples below can be moved to other positions:

Example Alternative
  • I left after a term. [S1A-033 #6]
~After a term, I left.
  • If it’s a really nice day we could walk. [S1A-006 #301]
~We could walk if it’s a really nice day.
  • I am also probably going to do a vegetarian dish. [S1A-081 #328]
~I am also going to do a vegetarian dish, probably.
~Probably, I am also going to do a vegetarian dish.

More than one Adverbial can occur in a clause. Can you identify all the Adverbials in the examples below?

Adverbials specify additional information about a situation, and the sentence is still grammatically complete if they are left out:

Key points

Adverbials:

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Adverbial: Used as linking device

Adverbials typically modify verbs or clauses, but they can also be useful as linking devices to connect clauses to the content of the preceding text. Here are some examples of Adverbials that have this function. Remember that Adverbials can appear in different shapes: as adverbs (or adverb phrases), as prepositional phrases, as (shortened) clauses, or as set phrases.

Listing

Supplementation

Result

Reformulation

Contrast

Concession

Digression

(to signal digression)

(to signal return from digression)

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