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:




noun phrase 
verb phrase (gerund, infinitive, participle) 
prepositional phrase 

independent sentence 
nominal clause 
adverbial (subordinate) clause 
adjectival (relative) clause 

subject complement 
direct object 
indirect object 
object complement 
object of preposition 

modifier of (verb) 

subject complement 
object complement 
modifier of (noun) 

Sentence modifier





  • 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 whereas.


 Underline the adverbial in each sentence and identify its form. What question do the adverbials answer? Then identify the sentence patterns.
  1. My friend works at the grocery store.
  2. We went to the pool to swim.
  3. I went to sleep after midnight.
  4. Jack went outside for some fresh air.
  5. After the show, we went skating.
  6. She left with a smile.
  7. She saw the cat on the porch.
  8. My friend and I decided to take a walk this morning.
  9. He will meet me here at 4 o'clock.
  10. Beth cried because of her dog's dying.
  11. The dog barked all night while I was trying to sleep.
  12. The boy laughed loudly.
Click here for answers.



Jacobus, Lee A. The Sentence Book. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1976.

Kolln, Martha and Rober Funk. Understanding English Grammar. Fifth Edition. Needham, Massachussets: Allyn &  Bacon, 1998.
  McCaley, James D. Grammar and Meaning. New York: Academic Press, Inc., 1976.
  Written by Aimee Dunn
Edited by Mark Canada