English Grammar

Adverb Clauses

by Eugene R. Moutoux

1. A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a predicate (the verb, its objects, and the modifiers of the verb and of its objects). An independent, or main, clause is a clause that can stand alone as a complete sentence. Every sentence must have at least one main clause. A dependent, or subordinate, clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence but is dependent upon another clause. There are three types of dependent clauses: adverb clauses, adjective clauses, and noun clauses. In this section, you will be introduced to adverb clauses. Sentences that have at least one dependent clause are called complex sentences.

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2. Some adverb clauses are introduced by subordinating conjunctions (because, since, although, if, etc.). Here are several sentences that contain subordinating conjunctions:

- Stacy stayed home on Derby day because it was raining.

- Since none of us has a basketball, we canít play basketball. For since to be a subordinating conjunction, it must be causal (i.e., it must mean "because"). 

- Although she had just bought a new dress, she decided to wear an old one.

- I would have left earlier if I hadnít had to clean my room. If is a subordinating conjunction only when it is conditional. When if means "whether," i.e., when it introduces an indirect question, it is an expletive.

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3. Other adverb clauses are introduced by relative adverbs (when, where, after, before, while, since, as, etc.). Relative adverbs are adverbs because they modify the kinds of words that adverbs modify. They are called relative adverbs because, in part, they function as prepositions with relative-pronoun objects. This will become clear as you examine the following sentences and read the explanations:

- We can do our homework when we return. The relative adverb when can be expressed as at the time at which. This expression comprises two prepositional phrases: at the time and at which, the former modifying the verb do and the latter modifying the verb return. Which in at which is a relative pronoun. 

- Dorothy wanted to go where her friends were going. The relative adverb where is the equivalent of to the place to which.

- When we retire, we can go hiking whenever the weather is accommodating. Both when and whenever are relative adverbs. The latter is the equivalent of at any time at which.íí (When and where can also be interrogative adverbs and, as such, introduce direct and indirect questions.

- Make hay while the sun shines. While, a relative adverb, can be restated as during the time at which.

- After he had worked in the garden for an hour, he sat down and fell asleep. The relative adverb after can be restated as after the time at which. Notice that after in the expression after the time at which is not a relative adverb but a preposition.

- He hasnít stopped talking since he got here. The relative adverb since is temporal, not causal. It is the equivalent of since the time at which. The latter since is a preposition.

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4. There are two types of comparisons: equal and unequal. Both are expressed by using relative adverbs and (often elliptical) subordinate clauses. Equal comparisons require the positive (or basic) form of an adjective or adverb preceded by as or so (ordinary adverbs) and followed by as (a relative adverb). Unequal comparisons require the comparative form of an adjective or adverb followed by the relative adverb than. Adjectives and adverbs have three gradations: positive, comparative, and superlative. Here are several examples: (adjectives) tall, taller, tallest; good, better, best; beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful; (adverbs) soon, sooner, soonest; well, better, best; awkwardly, more awkwardly, most awkwardly.

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5. The sentence You are as tall as she expresses an equal comparison; that is, the two people being compared are equal in height. Every comparison contains a subordinate clause, which is usually expressed elliptically. You are as tall as she, in its expanded form, is You are as tall as she is tall. The first as of the correlatives as . . . as is a regular adverb; it modifies the adjective tall (the first one). The second as is a relative adverb and modifies the second (or unexpressed) tall. To see why the second as is not an ordinary adverb but a relative adverb, consider this equivalent restatement: You are tall in the degree in which she is tall. The first as is rendered by in the degree, the second by in which. Since this which is a relative pronoun, the second as is called a relative adverb. Here are three more equal comparisons:

- Jessica can run as fast as her brother. Expanded sentence: Jessica can run as fast as her brother can run fast. Equivalent sentence: Jessica can run fast in the degree in which her brother can run fast. Fast is an adverb in this sentence.

- The Smiths are not so wealthy as the Joneses. Expanded sentence: The Smiths are not so wealthy as the Joneses are wealthy. Equivalent sentence: The Smiths are not wealthy in the degree in which the Joneses are wealthy.

- They are as honest as they are kind. This sentence is not elliptical. Equivalent sentence: They are honest in the degree in which they are kind.

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6. The sentence You are taller than she expresses an unequal comparison; that is, the two people being compared are unequal in height. The expanded form of this elliptical sentence is You are taller than she is tall. This is equivalent to You are tall beyond the degree in which she is tall. In this restatement, taller is rendered as tall beyond the degree, and than is expressed as in which, a prepositional phrase containing a relative pronoun; thus, than is called a relative adverb. Here are several unequal comparisons:

- Her work is more difficult than his. Expanded sentence: Her work is more difficult than his is difficult. Equivalent sentence: Her work is difficult beyond the degree in which his is difficult.

- Jack was hurt worse than Jill. Expanded sentence: Jack was hurt worse than Jill was hurt badly. Equivalent sentence: Jack was hurt badly beyond the degree in which Jill was hurt badly.

- I would rather write a report than read one. Expanded sentence: I would rather write a report than I would gladly read one. Equivalent sentence: I would write a report gladly beyond the degree in which I would gladly read one.

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7. The correlatives as . . . as and so . . . as are used with the positive degree of adjectives and adverbs (in so-called equal comparisons). Another correlative expression, the . . . the, is used with the comparative degree. In the sentence The bigger they are, the harder they fall, which can be rephrased as They fall harder in the degree in which they are bigger, the in the bigger is a relative adverb, while the in the harder is a regular adverb.

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8. In the sentence We were so tired that we fell asleep right away, so . . . that (always with an intervening word or words) is a correlative expression expressing result. It is not to be confused with so that (written together), which expresses purpose (e.g., She turned off the TV so that she could study better); so that is a phrasal subordinating conjunction. In the case of so . . . that, so is a regular adverb and that is a relative adverb. The sentence We were so tired that we fell asleep right away can be restated as We were tired to the degree at which we fell asleep right away.

- from the teacher's enlarged edition of my book Diagramming Step by Step: One Hundred and Fifty-one Steps to Diagramming Excellence

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