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Adverbial Clauses

In this lesson we will look in more detail at adverbial clauses.

These clauses are a type of complex sentence, so it is essential that you are able to use them in your writing and speaking if you want to achieve a good band score.

The examiner will be monitoring your speaking and writing closely to assess how well you know them.

In the table below you can see the most common types of adverbs used to make adverbial clauses.

You can also see what they are used for and some example sentences.

Types of Adverbial Clause 

Time Clauses:

  • In reference to a period of time or another event

He arrived before I did.

After I have finished studying, I intend to work abroad.

As the climate gets hotter, sea levels will rise.

I will keep learning English for as long as it is necessary.

While I am studying, I usually listen to the radio.

Rates of obesity increase when too much junk food is eaten.

Since I started going to fitness, I have lost 5 kilos.

I will keep learning English until I am upper intermediate.

Conditional Clauses

  • Expressing a hypothesis or condition, real or imagined

If we clone humans, it may have terrible consequences.

What would you buy if you won the lottery?

Our food will not be safe unless GM crops are banned.

Reason Clauses

  • To explain why

My English is not improving because I am not studying enough.

Since the govenment cut spending, poverty has increased.

Pollution is increasing as there are too many cars.

Purpose Clauses

  • To show the purpose of doing something

I am studying IELTS in order to attend university abroad.

He went to the gym so that he could lose weight.

Concession Clauses

  • To show contrast between two statements, or surprise.

Although e-readers are popular, most people still prefer books.

The Minister wants to incease taxes though his party disagrees.

Even though I studied every day, I didn't get the score I needed (surprising)

Internet usage increased, while phone usage decreased.*

Whereas you have a lot of time to study, I do not.*


  • To talk about location of position

Wherever he goes, I will go.

I am not sure where I put my pen.

Rules for Adverbial Clauses

Remember that adverbial clauses are made up of two clauses - an independent clause and a dependent clause (look at these lessons on sentence clauses and complex sentences again if you are not sure what clauses are).

1) Switching the Clauses

The first thing to note is that the independent and dependent clauses can be switched around:

After I have finished studying, I intend to work abroad.
(Dependent Clause + Independent Clause)

I intend to work abroad after I have finished studying.
(Independent Clause + Dependent Clause)

In all of the sentences in the table above, the clauses can be switched around.

2) Commas

Note though that if you switch them around and put the dependent clause first, a comma must come at the end of the dependent clause:

After I have finished studying, I intend to work abroad.

I intend to work abroad after I have finished studying.
(No Comma)

This might seem like a minor point but it is quite important in your writing. Complex sentences can sometimes get confusing if commas are missing as it can become unclear where one clause ends and the other begins.

If any of your sentences are confusing, this will definitely reduce your score.

*'While' and 'Whereas' are execptions to this rule because they do have commas even when they appear in the middle of the sentence.

3) Meanings

Even though certain adverbs have been grouped together in the adverbial clauses table, this does not mean that they are all synomyms for each other.

Some you can interchange with each other without changing the meaning. For instance, 'since', 'as' and 'because' all have the same meaning and you can choose which one you want to use. But some you cannot.

For example, look at these conditional adverbs:

I will go if you go.

I will go unless you go.

The word 'unless' does not work in the second sentence. It has to be changed:

I won't go unless you go.

Now it has the same meaning.

Similarly, 'although', 'even though', and 'though' are all synonyms of each other and can be interchanged, but 'while' and 'whereas' canot always be swapped with them.

So you need to practice each individual word and check how it is used.

A Common Mistake

A common mistake with adverbial clauses (and other complex sentences) is to write fragments.

A fragment is an incomplete sentence:

My English is not improving. Because I am not studying enough.

A dependent clause (the second one in this case) cannot be a sentence on its own. By placing a full-stop after "improving", this has turned the second clause into a sentence fragment.

A dependent clause must have an independent clause attached to it:

My English is not improving because I am not studying enough.

When you check your work, you should check your complex sentences and check that you have not written any fragments.

Examples in Context

Look at this sample essay. The adverbial clauses are coloured, with the independent clauses in green (and italics) and the dependent clauses in red (and underlined). The adverbs are shaded in yellow.

Some people believe the aim of university education is to help graduates get better jobs. Others believe there are much wider benefits of university education for both individuals and society.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

These days, more and more people are making the choice to go to university.  While some people are of the opinion that the only purpose of a university education is to improve job prospects, others think that society and the individual benefit in much broader ways.

It is certainly true that one of the main aims of university is to secure a better job.  The majority of people want to improve their future career prospects and attending university is one of the best ways to do this as it increases a persons marketable skills and attractiveness to potential employers.  In addition, further education is very expensive, so most people would not consider it if it would not provide them with a more secure future and a higher standard of living. Thus job prospects are very important.

However, there are other benefits for individuals and society.  Firstly, the independence of living away from home is a benefit because it helps the students develop better social skills and improve as a person.  A case in point is that many students will have to leave their families, live in halls of residence and meet new friends.  As a result, their maturity and confidence will grow enabling them to live more fulfilling lives.  Secondly, society will gain from the contribution that the graduates can make to the economy.  We are living in a very competitive world, so countries need educated people in order to compete and prosper.

Therefore, I believe that although a main aim of university education is to get the best job, there are clearly further benefitsIf we continue to promote and encourage university attendance, it will lead to a better future for individuals and society.

It is good to have a variety of sentences types. and as you can see, there are a mix of adverbial clauses which demonstrates that the candidate has a good grammatical range.

Try writing your own essay. When you have finished, go through your work and highlight the adverbial clauses, identifying the adverb and the dependent and independent clauses.

Is there a mix? Are they used correctly with subjects and verbs present in each clause and no fragments?


Adverbial Clause Practice Exercise

In the following exercise, choose which adverb fits in the gap in order to make correct adverbial clauses.

1. Much of the food we eat would not actually last that long it were not for the chemicals they contain

2. have robust evaluation procedures in the future, both formal exams and continual assessment should be used to assess students during their education.

3. chatting online can be beneficial, it is certainly not the same as real interaction with human beings.

4. Long prison sentences should remain for assault or murder justice for the victim and their family should take priority.

5. It is important that the government financially assists theatres they can continue to provide entertainment to the public.

6. I will keep studying hard I pass the exam.

7. I will continue to use my bike petrol prices remain high.

8. he practiced the guitar every day, he was still not very good.

9. Global warming will not slow down governments take serious action soon.

10. I used to live you can now see that office block. They knocked my house down to build it.

Score =
Correct answers:

Try another adverb clause quiz >>>

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