Adverb(ial) Phrases in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Exhibit showing the Cheshire cat sitting in a tree.

William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

An adverb phrase (or adverbial phrase) is a word group with an adverb as its head. This adverb may be accompanied by modifiers or qualifiers.

An adverb phrase can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or even an entire sentence or main clause. As shown in the examples below, it can appear in a number of different positions in a sentence.

Examples of Adverbial Phrases

  • The Cheshire Cat vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of its tail.
  • The players responded surprisingly well to all the pressures of the playoffs.
  • The best way to preserve the flavor and texture of fresh vegetables is to cook them as quickly as possible.
  • As quickly as possible, we cleaned the fish and placed them in coolers.
  • The air was warm, stirred only occasionally by a breeze.
  • Only occasionally is there a rumble in the sky or a hint of rain.
  • Snow fell much earlier than usual.
  • My daughter's choice of driving music is, surprisingly enough, classic rock.

Quotes With Adverb Phrases

James Russell Lowell

"If youth be a defect, it is one that we outgrow only too soon."

Beverly Barton, "Close Enough to Kill"

"Bernie watched Jim's face for a reaction. Surprisingly enough, he grinned."

Adverbial Phrases Without Adverbs

They're called adverbial phrases because they can occur in the same range of positions as single adverbs. Many such adverbial phrases, paradoxically, do not contain an adverb. Such adverb-less adverbial phrases are typically prepositional phrases, as italicized in the examples below from James R. Hurford in "Grammar: A Student's Guide."

  • On Friday night, I'm playing squash.
  • Their marriage broke up in the most painful way.
  • May I, on behalf of the shareholders, congratulate you?

Positioning Adverb Phrases

Jame R. Hurford, "Grammar: A Student's Guide"

"Like adverbs, adverb phrases can cause confusion because there is some flexibility in where they occur within sentences, and even in modifying the sentence structure. As well, adverb phrases are sometimes embedded in other phrases.

"Examples are:

  • Laura, a better, gentler, more beautiful Laura, whom everybody, everybody loved dearly and tenderly.
  • He had taken her hand sympathizingly, forgivingly, but his silence made me curious.
  • David, on the lowest step, was very evidently not hearing a word of what was being said.

Our first example identifies an adverb phrase following the verb loved; the next example shows an adverb phrase following the noun hand and removed from the verb it modifies; the third example has an adverb phrase embedded into a verb phrase was...hearing. Such flexibility makes it more difficult to identify these phrases; therefore, noting the head adverb can be of help."


Barton, Beverly. "Close Enough to Kill." Hardcover, Zebra Books/Kensington Publish, 2006.

Hurford, James R. "Grammar: A Student's Guide." Cambridge University Press, January 27, 1995.

O'Dwyer, Bernard. "Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Position." 2nd Edition, Broadview Press, June 16, 2006.