Adverb Phrases

A clause is a stand-alone statement in English that includes a subject and a verb that shows tense and agreement. A phrase is a reduced form where the subject is usually dropped and the verb is shortened to a participle form. Phrases can be tough for English language learners to understand because they’re not so easy to recognize. Let’s take a closer look at a common type: adverb phrases.

Clause Vs. Phrase

Students should be aware of the difference between adverb clauses and adverb phrases. Remind learners that a clause is a complete sentence with a subject and verb (and possibly an object), while a phrase isn’t a complete sentence.

Example Note
I learned a lot while I was studying. Adverb clause: subject I, verb was studying
I learned a lot while studying. Adverb phrase: no subject, incomplete verb studying

Phrase Rules

How do we reduce an adverb clause to a phrase in English? Follow these simple rules:

# Part of Speech Rule Example
1 Subject Drop the subject of the adverb clause.
2 One-part verb Change a simple present or past verb into the present participle (-ing) form. leave  leaving, danced  dancing
3 Two-part verbs with be Drop the be auxiliary verb and leave the second form. was walking walking
4 Two-part verbs with have Drop the have auxiliary verb and change the second form into the present participle. had graduated graduating (or, less commonly, having graduated)

Phrase Examples

Adverb Clause Adverb Phrase
  • I lock all the doors before I leave my house.
  • Before I leave my house, I lock all the doors.
  • I lock all the doors before leaving my house.
  • Before leaving my house, I lock all the doors.
  • He sang while he danced.
  • While he danced, he sang.
  • He sang while dancing.
  • While dancing, he sang.
  • I ate breakfast while I was walking to the bus stop.
  • While I was walking to the bus stop, I ate breakfast.
  • I ate my breakfast while walking to the bus stop.
  • While walking to the bus stop, I ate my breakfast.
  • She got a new job after she had graduated.
  • After she had graduated, she got a new job.
  • She got a new job after graduatinghaving graduated.
  • After graduatinghaving graduated, she got a new job.

Phrase Notes

Note #1

An adverb phrase is dependent (meaning it cannot stand alone), and it can come before or after the independent (main) clause. If it comes before the main clause, use a comma.

  • While traveling through Europe, I met many people.
  • I met many people while traveling through Europe.

Note #2

Adverb phrases are only possible with the same subject. If the subject of the independent clause and the subject of the adverb clause are different, the adverb clause cannot be reduced to an adverb phrase. This is a common error called a dangling participle phrase.

  • While she was soaking in the bath, she felt very relaxed. (adverb clause)
  • While soaking in the bath, she felt very relaxed. (adverb phrase)
  • While she was soaking in the bath, her kids made dinner. (adverb clause)
  • While soaking in the bath, her kids made dinner. (incorrect adverb phrase—the dropped subject she and the subject her kids are different)

Note #3

While can sometimes be omitted from an adverb phrase, but only when the phrase is at the beginning of a sentence and only if the phrase is more than one word.

  • While traveling through Europe, I met many people.
  • Traveling through Europe, I met many people.
  • While traveling, I met may people.
  • Traveling, I met many people. (incorrect because the adverb phrase only has one word)
  • I met many people traveling through Europe  (incorrect—this is an adjective phrase reduced from the adjective clause people who were traveling through Europe)

Related Resources

A new Grammar Practice Worksheets lesson on adverb phrases is coming soon!

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  1. tuncayekici@gmail.com'

    Tuncay Ekici says:

    Oct 13, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    It’s great. Thanks.

    Reply

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