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Can an adverbial clause modify only a verb?

Down below, words in bold are verbs modified. Italic clauses are clauses modifying the verbs

Example 1,

Getting bullied because he was shorter was something keeping happening in his childhood.

Example 2,

Doing volunteer work when some people are still suffering from lack of food, care, or many other resources can turn the world into a better place.

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    I'd say the adjuncts modify the VPs in bold. Note, though, that they are preposition phrases, not clauses.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 5:22
  • In traditional English grammar, an adverb can modify things other than verbs, such as adjectives. So we might call some clauses that modify things other than verbs “adverbial,” too. I don’t think modern linguistics calls them that anyway, though.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 23:17

2 Answers 2

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Q, Can an adverbial clause modify only a verb?

A. First we need to define what is an "Adverb Clause".

Adverbial clauses or Adverb clauses are groups of words with a subject and a predicate that function as adverbs in a sentence.

Components of an Adverbial Clause An adverb clause has a number of essential components:

Many adverb clauses also have objects. A subject: A predicate: A subordinating conjunction:

A SUBJECT is a person or thing that is “doing” something in the clause. It answers the question “who/what”.

A subject can be a pronoun, a noun, a noun phrase (noun+modifiers) or even a verb (an infinitive or gerund):

He came home very late. (pronoun) A cat crossed the street. (noun) Small children can be hyperactive. (noun phrase) To leave was a good idea. (infinitive) Swimming is a great exercise. (gerund)

A PREDICATE tells us what the subject “does”. It can be a verb or a verb phrase (verb+objects or modifiers):

Audrey laughed. (verb) Audrey laughed happily (verb + modifier) Audrey laughed like a little child. (verb phrase)

Conjunction (trigger word) Most adverb clauses begin with a conjunction or “trigger word”. A conjunction sets the context of the sentence. It can indicate time, place, manner, condition, etc.

Conjunctions used with adverb clauses are called subordinating conjunctions. Adverb clauses are therefore called subordinate clauses or dependent clauses. Here are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:

Time when, after, before, until, since, while, once, as, as soon as

Reason because, since, as, so

Condition if, unless

Manner like, as

Comparison as … as, more than, less than

Concession although, even though, even if, while

Ref Grammar Top


Getting bullied because he was shorter was something keeping happening in his childhood. This is an incorrect sentence.

Lets try this sentence; with the adverb clause at the end.

As a child he was always getting bullied because he was shorter than the other kids.


Doing volunteer work when some people are still suffering from lack of food, care, or many other resources can turn the world into a better place. This is not how I would write this sentence.

Lets try this sentence; with the adverb clause in the middle.

Volunteer work, while people are suffering from lack of food, medical care and other life threatening problems, can help turn the world into a better place.

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  • The adjuncts in the OP's examples are headed by prepositions "because" and "when", and hence are PPs, not clauses. I wouldn't talk of 'adverb clauses'. Subordinate clauses are classified by their internal form or their type of head verb, not by spurious analogies with the parts of speech.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 8:29
  • Answer in ELL. Most adverb clauses begin with a conjunction or “trigger word”. A conjunction sets the context of the sentence. "Because"=Conjunction. Note "Because of"=compound preposition,
    – Brad
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 9:39
  • What you say is light years away from modern scholarly grammar. Subordinators function as markers of subordination, whereas preps like "because" function as heads of the constituents they introduce. Further, unlike conjunctions, preps have independent meaning ('an evident semantic content'). There is good reason not to treat "because of" as a composite prep, namely that we can replace the of + NP with a content clause: "because of the rain" ~ "because it was raining".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 9:56
  • Interesting; can you please direct me to your web site, here one I was using for reference grammartop.com/adverbial-clause-a-complete-guide However my schooling and Uni days are also now lightyears away but that does not make everything I learnt, back at the beginning of time, incorrect. Please note the guy William what his name? from Stratford way is still revered and he is a little older than me.
    – Brad
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 10:11
  • Here's a link to a scholarly post on "because". link
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 10:28
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Getting bullied [because he was shorter] was something keeping happening in his childhood

Doing volunteer work [when some people are still suffering from lack of food, care, or many other resources] can turn the world into a better place.

I wouldn't talk of 'adverb clauses'. Subordinate clauses are classified by their internal form or their type of head verb, not by spurious analogies with the parts of speech.

Modern grammar classifies words like "because" and "when" as prepositions; the bracketed elements are thus not clauses but preposition phrases that have a clausal complement.

In both cases, the PPs functions as a modifier in clause structure, i.e. they modify (and are thus part of) the matrix verb phrase.

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