What Is an Adverb of Time?

Never ending clock
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An adverb of time is an adverb (such as soon or tomorrow) that describes when the action of a verb is carried out. It can also be called a temporal adverb. An adverb phrase that answers the question "when?" is called a temporal adverbial.

Examples and Observations

  • "Indu's father . . . had a textile business and settled in Birmingham, with the intention of returning soon to India." (Ziauddin Sardar, Balti Britain: A Provocative Journey Through Asian Britain. Granta, 2008)
  • "This morning, following the decision of the clinic leadership in the meeting last night, we move all seriously injured soldiers and handicapped patients to the Party's school." (Dang Thuy Tram, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram, 2005. Trans. by Andrew X. Pham. Harmony Books, 2007)
  • "Five months ago, after a crab dinner celebrating Chinese New Year, my mother gave me my 'life's importance,' a jade pendant on a gold chain." (Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club. Putnam, 1989)
  • Honoré: We met at nine.
    Mamita: We met at eight.
    Honoré: I was on time.
    Mamita: No, you were late.
    Honoré: Ah, yes, I remember it well.
    (Alan Jay Lerner, "I Remember It Well," 1958)
  • "On Thursday We Leave for Home"
    (Twilight Zone episode, 1963)
  • "I always thought that Isolde was deep, but now I see that deep down she's shallow."
    (Peter De Vries, The Tunnel of Love. Little, Brown, 1957)

Now: Temporal Adverb or Discourse Marker?

"We are used to thinking about now as a temporal adverb. There is however a use of the word where it is non-temporal and differs in many respects from other adverbs. . . . Now has a number of properties associated with discourse particles. It is short and placed initially in the utterance; it does not belong to the propositional content of the utterance and it has a discourse-organising function. . . .
"There is . . . a great deal of fuzziness between the particle and the temporal adverb." (Karin Aijmer, English Discourse Particles: Evidence From a Corpus. John Benjamins, 2002)

  • Now as Temporal Adverb
    Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company.
  • Now as Discourse Marker 
    Now at that time, the bards were in great favor with the king.

Temporal Adverbs and Future Reference

"The present continuous tense is used to talk about plans and arrangements in the future with a time adverb.

Sarah and Harriet are meeting at ten o'clock on Tuesday. I am flying to Glasgow on Friday.

The present simple tense is used with a time adverb to talk about future plans which are part of a timetable or previous arrangement.

The main film starts at 2:45 p.m.
We leave at 4:p.m. tomorrow.

The future perfect tense (will have + the past participle) is used with a time adverb to talk about an action that will be finished at the time in the future you are referring to.

I was hoping to meet James, but by the time I arrive he will have gone home."

(Collins Easy Learning Grammar and Punctuation. Harper Collins, 2009)

Bare Time Adverbs

"Consider (28):

(28) Abdul left this Sunday/last year/yesterday/June 19, 2001.

The time adverbs in (28) are locating adverbs--even though they are not introduced by an overt preposition. Take the bare time adverb June 10, 2001. As a locating adverb, it contributes to the temporal interpretation of the sentence in which it occurs, the time interval that it designates, as well as the relation that holds between the designated time (June 10, 2001) and the past time of the event described by the VP ABDEL LEAVE. This relation is one of central coincidence. The bare time adverbs in (28) thus specify that the past time of Abdel's departure is contained within the time designated by last year/June 10, 2001." (Hamida Demirdache and Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria, "Syntax of Time Adverbs." The Syntax of Time, ed. by Jacqueline Guéron and Jacqueline Lecarme. MIT Press, 2004)

The Lighter Side of Temporal Adverbs

Sam Marlowe: Perhaps I'll come back tomorrow.
Arnie: When's that?
Sam Marlowe: The day after today.
Arnie: That's yesterday. Today's tomorrow.
Sam Marlowe: It was.
Arnie: When was tomorrow yesterday?
Sam Marlowe: Today.
Arnie: Oh, sure. Yesterday.
(John Forsythe and Jerry Mathers, The Trouble With Harry, 1955)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Adverb of Time?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/adverb-of-time-grammar-1692460. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is an Adverb of Time? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/adverb-of-time-grammar-1692460 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Adverb of Time?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/adverb-of-time-grammar-1692460 (accessed March 31, 2023).