Adverbial Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

adverbials
In each of these sentences, the italicized word or group of words is an adverbial.

In English grammar, an adverbial is an individual word (that is, an adverb), a phrase (an adverbial phrase), or a clause (an adverbial clause) that can modify a verb, an adjective, or a complete sentence.

Like almost any adverb, an adverbial can appear in a number of different positions in a sentence.

Examples and Observations

  • My sister usually visits on Sundays.
  • When she isn't working, my sister visits on Sundays.
  • My sister visits on Sundays when she isn't working.

The Difference Between Adverbs and Adverbials

  • "Adverbs and adverbials are similar but not the same. Though they share the same modifying function, their characters are different. An adverbial is a sentence element or functional category. It is a part of a sentence that performs a certain function. An adverb, on the other hand, is a type of word or part of speech. We can say that an adverb may serve as an adverbial, but an adverbial is not necessarily an adverb." (M. Strumpf and A. Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Owl, 2004)
  • "I want to [draw] a distinction between two terms: adverb and adverbial. The former term is a label for a syntactic category, covering familiar single-word items such as quickly, happily, and spontaneously. The latter term refers to a function. Linguistic elements that have this function include adverbs plus other linguistic elements such as phrases (on the table, at the bookstore, next week, last year, etc.) and clauses (e.g., after he saw the movie)." (Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. Information Age, 2010)

    Types of Adverbials

    • "[The class of adverbial] includes manner and degree adverbs (e.g. happily, clumsily, quickly, very), temporal adverbials (e.g. now, when, today), spatial adverbials (here, north, up, across), attitudinal adverbials (certainly, hopefully), modal adverbials (not, no, probably, etc.), expectation adverbials (only, even, again), and textual adverbials (firstly, finally)." (W. McGregor, Semiotic Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1997)
    • "In most cases when we talk about adverbial classes as classes exhibiting syntactic characteristics, the classes get a label that suggest a semantic basis of the classification. Picking randomly from different classifications and ordering them roughly from syntactically higher to lower adverbials, there are speaker-oriented speech act adverbials (frankly) and speaker-oriented evaluative ones (fortunately), evidential adverbials (evidently), epistemic adverbials (probably), domain adverbials (linguistically), subject-oriented or agent-oriented adverbials (deliberately), temporal adverbials (now), locative adverbials (here), quantificational adverbials (frequently), manner adverbials (slowly), degree adverbs (very), etc." (Jennifer R. Austin, Stefan Engelberg, and Gisa Rauh, "Current Issues in the Syntax and Semantics of Adverbials." Adverbials: The Interplay Between Meaning, Context, and Syntactic Structure, ed. by J.R. Austin et al. John Benjamins, 2004)

      Placement of Adverbials

      "In reality, adverbials are very free in their placement, appearing in different positions in the sentence, not just sentence final:

      • sentence initial—[Yesterday], I ran a marathon.
      • sentence final—I ran a marathon [yesterday].
      • preverbal—I [always] run well in the heat.
      • postverbal—I handed the baton [quickly] to the next runner.
      • within the verb group—I have [never] won a race.

      The various types of adverbials behave differently, however; while all can occur sentence finally, time adverbials are acceptable sentence initially and sometimes preverbally, place adverbials are clumsy sentence initially, and manner adverbials frequently occur preverbally but are less good sentence initially. One position which is impossible for adverbials is between the verb and the direct object." (Laurel J. Brinton, The Structure of Modern English. John Benjamins, 2000)