Using Adverb Clauses

Vague Gesture
I'm Not Sure!. Jamie Grill / Tetra images / Getty Images

What is an Adverb Clause?

Adverb clauses express when, why, or how something happened. Adverb clauses provide information to help understand the main action of a sentence.

Here are two examples:

She had lunch with Peter when he was in New York.
The students were studying because they had a test. 

When he was in New York and because they had a test are adverb clauses.  When he was in New York gives us information about when she had lunch with Peter.

Because the had at test tells us why the students were studying. 

What Happened When?

Adverb clauses can tell us when something happened.

He went to the Guggenheim museum when he was in New York.
Before he arrived, we had already finished the report. 

Why Did It Happen?

They can also tell us about the cause or effect of an action using subordinating conjunctions such as "because", or "since".

I need to go the supermarket because we need some milk.
Since my daughter decided to become a girl scout, she went out to purchase the necessary items. 

Were There Any Problems?

Adverb clauses can also be used to express opposition or contrasting situations with subordinating conjunctions such as 'even though', or 'while'.

She decided to attend the conference even though she wasn't feeling well.
While I'd like to visit, I'm afraid I have too much work at the moment. 


Which Condition?

Another use is to show conditions with 'if', 'unless' and other subordinating conjunctions.

We won't be able to finish the report unless he comes to the meeting.
If I were the director, I'd make sure every student had a computer. 

The Grammar of Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses are dependent clauses. Dependent clauses are used together with independent clauses. A dependent clauses can not stand by itself - in other words, when he went to New York is not a complete sentence.

It needs to be completed by an independent clause. 

Adverb clauses are introduced by a subordinating conjunction (listed below) and contain at least one subject and one verb. Remember this formula.

Sub. Conj. + S + V

In the adverb clause when he went to New York 'when' is the subordinating conjunction, 'he' is the subject and 'went' is the verb.

Adverb clauses can come in the middle of a sentence:

She's studying a lot because she has a test.

Adverb clauses can also come at the beginning of a sentence:

When he's in Rome, he does as the Romans do. 


When an adverb clause begins the sentence, use a comma to separate the two clauses.

As soon as he arrives, we will have some lunch..

When the adverb clause finishes the sentence there is no need for a comma.

He gave me a call when he arrived in town.

For more information about how to use these words click on the link for an explanation of the usage.

Subordinating Conjunction List


after, before, when, while, as, by the time (that), as soon as, since, until, whenever, the first time (that), the next time (that), the last time (that), every time (that) - more information on adverb clauses with time expressions


because, since, as, as long as, so long as, due to the fact that - more information on adverb clauses with expressions of cause and effect


although, even though, though, whereas, while - more information on adverb clauses with expressions of opposition


if, only if, unless, whether (or not), even if, providing (that), in case (that), provided (that), in the event (that) - more information on adverb clauses with condition expressions