An ELT Glossary : Adverbial / Adverbial clause

An adverbial is a clause element on the same level as subject, verb, object and complement. Some examples : 

He (S) had grabbed (V) the book (O) quickly (A)

She (S) was (V) a student (C) at Oxford (A) in the eighties (A)

After we finished, (A) I (S) went (V) straight (A) to the garden centre (A) to buy some plants.(A)

We (S) go (V) there (A) every year (A). We (S) nearly always (A) stay (V)  all day (A)

As these examples show, an adverbial is an adverb (single word), or any phrase or clause which functions in the same way as an adverb - in Richards. Platt and Weber's (1985:6) terms : "... which answers such questions as how? where? or when?" .  They may be :

- single adverbs (quickly, straight, there, always)
- adverb phrases (nearly always)
- prepositional phrases  (in the eighties, at Oxford, to the garden centre)
- noun phrases (all day, every year)
- adverbial clauses (to buy some plants, After we finished, )

Adverbials can generally occur in more than one position in the clause :
Eg: She grabbed the book quickly / She quickly grabbed the book 
and are generally optional - if they are omitted, the sentence remains acceptable grammatically.


Richards, J., Platt, J., Weber, H. (1985), Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics, Longman

Other related terms

Adjunct, disjunct, conjunct

Further reading