• Adverbials are one the five clause elements of English. The others are: subjects, objects, complements, and verb phrases.
• There is a close connection between adverb phrases and adverbials: Adverbials are very often made up of adverb phrases (which have an adverb as their “head”and very often as their unitary constituent.) However, adverb phrases and adverbials are not identical: Adverb phrases are often embedded in noun phrases and thus not clause elements at all. Note, for example, the difference between the role of the adverb phrase “beautifully” in “Harry’s beautifully combed hair was messed up by the wind ” and “Harry combed his hair beautifully, but it got messed up by the wind.” In the first, the adverb phrase, “beautifully” is part of the noun phrase, “Harry’s beautifully combed hair,” which is itself the subject element of the clause under consideration; in the second case, by contrast, the phrase is the adverbial element of the clause, “Harry combed his hair beautifully.”
• Adverbials differ in several ways from all the other types of clause element:
1. They play a wide variety of semantic roles.
- They can be used to indicate position, direction, duration, manner, means, cause, purpose, emphasis, amplification, etc.
2. They can have multiple occurrences in the same clause.
- A single clause can have only one subject, verb phrase, or complement. (I.e. it can contain only one instance of those elements which is not embedded in another element.) It can have two objects (direct and indirect) when an appropriate verb is used in the verb phrase. One clause can, however, have several non-embedded adverbials. Here is one with five: “ On Tuesday Harry will probably take Jill to the theater in the evening unless Jack is back in town.”
3. They can be “realized” in a variety of ways.
- Depending on context adverbials can be “realized” by one or another of the following structures: adverb phrases, noun phrases,
various sorts of clause
4. They can occupy a wide range of positions in a clause.
- Although the position of subjects, objects, complements, and verb phrases is within clauses is quite strictly fixed, adverbials are extremely mobile. For example, the adverbial, “very probably” can be placed correctly in four different places in the following sentence (marked by “X”):
[X] The villagers [X] have [X] been going into the woods to hunt [X]. (The final position would be unusual but grammatical.)
5. They have several distinctive grammatical functions.
- adjuncts — which modify verb phrases (E.g.“Jill quickly replied to Harry’s note.”)
- subjuncts — which perform functions such as focussing or restricting to certain point of view — (E.g. “Organizationally Sara’s website was a disaster.”)
- disjuncts — which convey a speaker’s comment or judgment: (E.g. “Naturally no one will tell Sara the truth.”)
- conjuncts — which express the speaker’s view of the connection between two linguistic units — (E.g. “Harry had to leave. Otherwise, Jill would have called the police. ”)