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 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.
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:
afteralthoughasbecausebeforeeven ifeven thoughifin order thatonceprovided thatrather thansinceso thatthanthatthoughunlessuntilwhenwheneverwherewhereaswhereverwhetherwhilewhy
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:
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 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?"
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.
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.
Adjective clauses are typically introduced by relative pronouns. The most common relative pronouns are as follows:
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.