An Adverbial is a word or phrase that is used, like an adverb, to modify a verb or clause. Of course, adverbs can be used as Adverbials, but many other types of words and phrases can be used this way, including preposition phrases and subordinate clauses.

  • The bus leaves in five minutes. [preposition phrase as adverbial: modifies leaves]
  • She promised to see him last night. [noun phrase modifying either promised or see, according to the intended meaning]
  • She worked until she had finished. [subordinate clause as adverbial]

What exactly is the difference between adverb and Adverbial? The former is a word class label, whereas the latter is a function label. Adverbials are the optional units in a clause which provide an answer to one or more of the questions 'when did this occur?', 'where did this occur?', 'why did this occur?', or 'how did this occur?'. So in the sentence Harriet did well in the SPaG test we say that the word well is an adverb which functions as an Adverbial. Here are some further examples, with the Adverbials highlighted:

  • Last week, we finished all the work quickly. [noun phrase and adverb phrase functioning as Adverbial]
  • The police drove very fast. [adverb phrase functioning as Adverbial]
  • She hurriedly finished her meal in the restaurant. [adverb phrase and prepositional phrase functioning as Adverbial]

A linking Adverbial is an Adverbial that links a sentence, clause, etc. to another bit of text. Here are some examples:

  • Early application from students abroad is advised. However, where there is time to do so, students who are uncertain about their qualifications should write in the first instance to the Assistant Registrar, to check that they are eligible for consideration.
  • By April eighty-seven, Dr. Reeves noticed that the floor of the eye socket was sinking. Nevertheless, on the eighteenth of May she resumed work as a nursing auxiliary in the out-patients department of Pembury Hospital.

A fronted Adverbial is an Adverbial that is placed at the start of a sentence or clause. The National Curriculum demands that a comma is placed after fronted adverbials. Here are some examples:

  • Reluctantly , we left the theatre.
  • In the evening, we had a party on the beach.

Adverbials and positioning in clauses

Exploring the effect of adverbial placement in different texts

In this lesson, we look at ways of teaching adverbials and the different ways they can be positioned inside clauses.


  • Explore the effect of placing adverbials in different positions.
  • Understand how adverbials are flexible and can be moved around to 'do different things'.
  • Help students apply this in their writing.

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, we take the concept of the adverbial and explore it through the analysis and creation of literary texts. This has 3 steps:

Foregrounding - activity

In pairs or small groups, explore instances of grammatical foregrounding in Funeral Blues. This could be done by producing an analysis grid, where students examine how a grammatical feature of the text is foregrounded, and most importantly, discuss the potential meaning of the foregrounded feature. How do the instances of foregrounding add to our understanding and enjoyment of the poem?

To get you started, here are a couple of ideas:

Grammatical feature

Sentence generator

What did you and your family do on the holidays? In this activity you will experiment with our fun sentence generator which reports on some unusual holiday happenings!

Sentence generator: Activity

Click on each column to scroll up and down, and make different combinations.

Click on the dice at the top of the columns to get a new random ordering of elements.

In slide 2, re-order elements by clicking within a column and dragging to left or right (or by clicking on the arrows at the tops of the columns).

Identify the Adverbials

Find the Adverbials in a range of examples

Identify the Adverbials in each example (there is only one in each sentence). To select a sequence of words, click on the first and last words.


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:

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.


Sentence types: simple, compound, complex

This unit further explains simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences, which were introduced in the unit 'Clauses: main and subordinate'. Simple sentences contain one clause, while compound and complex sentences contain more than one clause.

National Curriculum note: The National Curriculum now refers to sentences that contain one clause as single-clause sentences, and those that contain more than one clause as multi-clause sentences.


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