Here's a tricky debate. Is there any difference between an adverb and an adverbial? There is, although it's a relatively minor one. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Meanwhile, adverbials act like adverbs to modify a verb or a clause. Adverbials can consist of a single word or an entire phrase.
That's a fine line, indeed. What's the difference between adverb and adverbial? Let's break it down further.
Looking at things broadly, adverbs are a word class (or a part of speech). That means they're members of a prominent tribe, similar to nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They're the top tier.
Meanwhile, adverbials are merely a grammatical label. It's more about describing their function in a sentence than acting as a part of speech. Adverbials provide further detail to a host of questions, including:
How did this happen?
When did this happen?
Where did this happen?
Why did this happen?
Adverbials function like adverbs, modifying verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Yet, here's the distinction. All adverbs are adverbials, but not all adverbials are adverbs. One of the best ways to differentiate the two is to note that adverbials are often part of a clause or phrase.
Adverbs often end in -ly. When you spot a word ending in -ly, such as wonderfully, you can place a bet that it's likely an adverb. That's not to say every adverb ends in -ly. Other examples include always, maybe, often, seldom, sometimes, and very. Still, they're typically singular words.
Adverbials, however, like to present themselves as part of a clause or phrase. For example, "They sang loudly as they decorated the tree." In this sentence, sang is the verb and the entire phrase "loudly as they decorated the tree" is telling you how it happened. (Of course, this is not to say every adverbial is a clause or phrase.) Let's look at some more examples below.
Seems like a lot of murky water, doesn't it? Truth is, the two are so close, they're more like siblings than cousins. Let's take a look at some examples of adverbs and adverbials for further clarity.
Let's approach adverbs according to their modifiers. As we know, adverbs can modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.
Here they are at work with verbs:
He talks quickly. (Here, the adverb "quickly" is modifying the verb "talks.")
She wrote slowly. (Here, the adverb "slowly" is modifying the verb "wrote.")
James sadly returned home. (Here, the adverb "sadly" is modifying the verb "returned.")
Here they are at work with other adverbs:
Sam runs very quickly. (Here, the adverb "very" is modifying the adverb "quickly.")
He visits rather seldomly. (Here, the adverb "rather" is modifying the adverb "solemnly.")
She greets them somewhat kindly. (Here, the adverb "somewhat" is modifying the adverb "kindly.")
Here they are at work with adjectives:
He is incredibly smart. (Here, the adverb "incredibly" is modifying the adjective "smart.")
She was terribly rude. (Here, the adverb "terribly" is modifying the adjective "rude.)
The landscape is impossibly green. (Here, the adverb "impossibly" is modifying the adjective green.")
Let's explore adverbials while focusing on their placement in the sentence. This will help you consider them in a different light than adverbs.
During the week, I walk to the village. (Here, the adverbial is placed at the beginning of the sentence.)
I walk to the village during the week. (Here, the adverbial is placed at the end of the sentence.)
I always stop and chat with the locals. (Here, the adverbial is placed just before the verb.)
I stop and chat hastily with the locals. (Here, the adverbial is placed just after the verb.)
I have never run to the village. (Here, the adverbial is placed within the verb group.)
In the fourth example, "hastily" operates as an adverb, but "hastily with the locals" acts as an adverbial. That's why these two are more like (very close) siblings than cousins.
Don't be surprised if you see the two terms interchanged. Each element is providing further detail. WIth a similar task at hand, it's often hard to draw a clear line in the sand between adverbs and adverbials.
Still, every once in a while, it's nice to sprinkle a colorful adverb into your writing. Why not review this list of 100 adverbs and see if you want to introduce any of them to your latest bit of work? Perhaps you can even spin one or two of them into an adverbial!