by Aimee Dunn
Student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1998
An adverbial is a construction that modifies, or describes, verbs. When
an adverbial modifies a verb, it changes the meaning of that verb. Not
only does an adverb, one of the forms listed below in the chart, modify
a verb, but there are other words and word groups that do also. For example,
a prepositional phrase, an infinitive phrase, and a nominal clause can
all modify verbs.
In every sentence pattern, the adverbial tells where, when, why,
how, etc. There can be more than one adverbial in a sentence. Also,
there is not a certain slot fixed for adverbials. They are movable.
One way to analyze sentence structure is to think in terms of form and
function. Form refers to a word class--such as noun, verb, adjective,
adverb, and preposition--as well as types of phrases,
such as prepositional phrase, nominal clause, and adverbial
clause. Function refers to the function of the form in
a sentence. For example, the function of a prepositional phrase in a sentence
may be adverbial; that is, it modifies a verb. Here is a chart, taken from
Martha Kolln's Understanding Engish Grammar, that will help you
better understand form and function:
verb phrase (gerund, infinitive, participle)
adverbial (subordinate) clause
adjectival (relative) clause
object of preposition
modifier of (verb)
modifier of (noun)
Adverb: a word that modifies a verb. The easiest adverbs to find
are those that end in -ly. Those adverbs are called manner
adverbs. There are also frequency adverbs, adverbs of place, and adverbs
of time. Examples: quickly, courageously, sheepishly.
Adverbial: any structure, no matter what its form, that functions
as a modifier of a verb. Example: I couldn't sleep well throughout
Adverbial infinitive: an infinitive, which consists of the word
to and the base form of the verb, used to modify a verb. Example.
My father reads to improve his vocabulary.
Adverbial prepositional phrase: Movable phrases that begin with
prepositions and modify verbs. Example: We washed our hands after
Dangling infinitive: a problem that occurs when the subject of the
sentence is not the subject of an introductory adverbial infinitive. Example:
To stay healthy, exercise is important.
Subordinate clause: a dependent clause introduced by a subordinating
conjunction. Example: Before you watch TV, you need to finish
The most common structure of modification is a prepositional phrase, which
refers to form. Adverbial prepositional phrases can occupy several positions.
They modify verbs. There are sometimes more than one adverbial prepositional
phrase in a sentence.
The subject of an adverbial infinitive is usually the subject of the sentence.
It always begins with to.
The most common subordinators that introduce adverbial clauses are after,
because, before, since, so, until, when, while, although, if, and
Underline the adverbial in each sentence and identify its form. What
question do the adverbials answer? Then identify the sentence patterns.
here for answers.
My friend works at the grocery store.
We went to the pool to swim.
I went to sleep after midnight.
Jack went outside for some fresh air.
After the show, we went skating.
She left with a smile.
She saw the cat on the porch.
My friend and I decided to take a walk this morning.
He will meet me here at 4 o'clock.
Beth cried because of her dog's dying.
The dog barked all night while I was trying to sleep.
The boy laughed loudly.
Jacobus, Lee A. The Sentence Book. New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, Inc., 1976.
This book focuses on the elements of a sentence. These elements
are discussed individually and in complete detail.
Kolln, Martha and Rober Funk. Understanding English Grammar.
Fifth Edition. Needham, Massachussets: Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
This book focuses on many concepts used in grammar. Many examples
and hints are given to help readers understand these concepts.
McCaley, James D. Grammar and Meaning. New York: Academic Press,
This book focuses on syntax and semantics from the years 1964-1971.
The book gives us the author's theory of grammar. From this, we can see
how grammar has changed today.
Written by Aimee Dunn
Edited by Mark