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Teaching Adverbial and Adjective Clauses

When teaching adverbial and adjective clauses to students, it is important to demonstrate how these types of clauses differ. While they are both dependent clauses that cannot stand on their own and thus require another independent clause to create a grammatical sentence, adverbial clauses and adjective clauses perform two distinct functions in sentences.

Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial clauses are dependent clauses that modify verbs and verb phrases. Adverbial clauses answer questions about the verb phrase that relate to time, location, purpose, and condition.

When teaching students to identify adverbial clauses, you should ask them to consider what kinds of questions the clause answers. If the clause they are tying to identify answers the question "why?", "when?", "where?", "to what degree?", or "under what conditions?" then it is an adverbial clause.

Consider the following examples of adverbial clauses:

  • The hostess wouldn't seat us because the restaurant was closed.

The clause because the restaurant was closed answers questions about why the hostess wouldn't seat us.

  • The seeds will take root wherever there is enough light.

In this example, wherever there is enough light is an adverbial clause because it specifies where the seeds will take root.

  • Sean will come to your party if you promise to let his band play.

The adverbial clause if you promise to let my band play clarifies the conditions under which Sean will come to the party.

Subordinate Conjunctions

As you can see from the above examples, in most situations, adverbial clauses can be identified by the words or phrases that introduce them. Known as subordinating conjunctions, these words and phrases signify time, cause and effect, opposition and condition.

If students can identify the following list of subordinate conjunctions, they will be well equipped to identify adverbial clauses in sentences:

after, although, as, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order that, once, provided that, rather than, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, whether, while, why

Adverbial Clauses are Movable

Another useful tool to employ when teaching adverbial and adjective clauses to students is to demonstrate how adverbial clauses are more easily movable within sentences than adjective clauses. The following examples from above can be restructured and still be grammatical:

  • The hostess wouldn't seat us because the restaurant was closed.

  • Because the restaurant was closed, the hostess wouldn't seat us.

  • The seeds will take root wherever there is enough light.

  • Wherever there is enough light, the seeds will take root.

It is important to note that when an adverbial clause precedes the sentence's independent clause, it is always separated with a comma.

Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses are dependent clauses that modify nouns or pronouns. Much like adverbial clauses, students who are trying to identify adjective clauses should try to determine what kinds of questions the clause in questions answers. Adjective clauses clarify the noun or noun phrase by answering questions about "which?" or "what type of?"

  • The guitar, which was the one Elvis used to own, was found at a garage sale.

  • Whitey broke the law which lead to his incarceration.

  • Jeremy, who won the lottery, now lives in Malibu.

In these examples, the adjective clauses provide information that answers the question of "which."

Unlike adverbial clauses, adjective clauses typically can't be moved without constructing sentences that are ungrammatical.

  • Which was the one Elvis used to own the guitar was found at a garage sale.

  • The guitar was found at a garage sale which was the one Elvis used to own.

Neither sentence above makes grammatical sense when the adjective clause is moved. This is a useful fact to consider when teaching students how to determine if a clause is an adverbial clause or an adjective clause. If the sentence ceases to make sense when the clause is moved, it is more likely an adjective clause rather than an adverbial clause.

Relative Pronouns

Adjective clauses are typically introduced by relative pronouns. The most common relative pronouns are as follows:

who, whom, whose, whomever, whoever, whichever, that, which, what, whatever

Teaching Adverbial and Adjective Clauses to Students

Students should first understand the different functions of adverbial and adjective clauses.

  • Adverbial clauses modify verbs and verb phrases and answer questions such as "why?", "when?", "where?", "to what degree?", or "under what conditions?"

  • Adjective clauses modify nouns and noun phrases and answer questions such as "which?" or "what type of?"

Adverbial clauses are typically introduced by subordinate conjunctions and adjective clauses are usually introduced by relative pronouns. Being able to identify these conjunctions and pronouns will assist students in recognizing adverbial and adjective clauses.

A final test students can use is to try to move the clause in question to another place in the sentence. Adverbial clauses are typically movable, whereas adjective clauses are rarely movable without creating an ungrammatical sentence.

Teaching Adverbial and Adjective ClausesTeaching Adverbial and Adjective Clauses

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