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  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Subordination in English: Adverbial Clauses

Updated: Jun 4

Clause-Linking in English

In English, to make sense, any sentence must have at least one independent (main) clause, consisting of a subject and a predicate (a verb + an object/complement), which embodies the core of any English sentence. Any clause consisting of one such core is a simple (independent) sentence:

Simple Sentence/ Independent Clause = Subject + Predicate

When a simple sentence as an independent (main) clause connects to another clause, the type of the resulting sentence depends on the type of the added clause.

If the added clause is:

  1. Independent, the resulting sentence is compound.

  2. Dependent, the resulting sentence is complex.

  3. Supplemental (parenthetical), the resulting sentence is supplementive.

The clause-linking strategies in English can thus be classified according to the syntactic (structural) and semantic (meaning-based) differences between the clauses within the sentence.

Rhetorically speaking, clauses are linked by either of these devices:

Parataxis (coordination) as independent, parallel, equal clauses (forming a compound sentence).

Hypotaxis (subordination) as dependent, nonparallel, unequal clauses (forming a complex sentence).

Parenthesis (supplementation) as parenthetical or equivalent constructions (forming a supplementive sentence).

A clause can also be linked either:

Asyndetically: without any conjunction, as a juxtaposed clause.

Syndetically: with a coordinated or subordinate conjunction, as a coordinate or subordinate clause.

Polysyndetically: with multiple coordinated conjunctions.

The painting  "The Martyr of the Solway" by John Everett Millais, depicting a distressed woman with her hands tied behind her back
The Martyr of the Solway by John Everett Millais


As an overview, the table below summarizes the common patterns of linking constituents (words, phrases, or clauses) within a sentence:


(Ø conjunction)


(1 conjunction)


(1+ conjunctions)


(Makes Parallel & Equal)

Asyndetic Parataxis


I love you; you love me.

The practice has a long, controversial history.

Syndetic Parataxis


I love you, and you love me.

The practice has a long and controversial history.

I’ll take either a bus or a taxi.

Polysyndetic Parataxis


I’ll either call out or bang on the door or blow my whistle.


(Makes Nonparallel & Unequal)

Asyndetic Hypotaxis


I am here should you need me.

I am here for the routine physical checkup.

She is expected later today.

Syndetic Hypotaxis


If you're clever, you can do anything.

I knew that running meant dying.

Mary, who lives in New York, is coming to visit.


(Makes Supplemental & Parenthetical)

Asyndetic Parenthesis


Gary Jones, then a student, wrote several bestsellers.

Emily, my wife, was waiting for me.

She said yeswould you believe it!—to Jim Cross from our school.

Syndetic Parenthesis


The United States of America, or America for short, is an empire in decline.

His explanation, that he couldn't see the car, is unsatisfactory.

The practice has a long, and controversial, history.

Juxtaposed, conjunction-less clause-linking of equal elements is rhetorically known as asyndetic parataxis, and it’s less common in English than syndetic parataxis—the style of linking clauses using coordinating conjunctions to produce syndetic compound sentences (connected with a coordinating conjunction and a comma, or a dash) or asyndetic compound sentences (connected using a semicolon or a colon, or a dash, without any conjunctions). English has a strong preference for the syndetic style.

Furthermore, asyndetic hypotaxis (connecting unequal elements through juxtaposition) describes the style of linking of hierarchically ordered, subordinate elements without any conjunction. Like in many other languages, English has a limited use of such constructions, which are typically used in formal context.

Finally, syndetic hypotaxis means using conjunctions for clause-linking characterized by subordination—by far the most common way of connecting clauses to produce complex sentences or compound-complex sentences.

Dependent clauses in English are structurally either finite (i.e., identical in form to main clauses) or reduced finite, i.e., nonfinite. Dependent finite clauses are typically structured as nominal, relative, or adverbial clauses. In their reduced nonfinite forms, English dependent clauses are used as verbal clauses, including gerunds, to-infinitives, present -ing and past -ed participial clauses, absolute, small, and verbless clauses. Although rarely used in speech, verbals are a staple of formal English writing.


Finite Clauses vs. Nonfinite (Reduced Finite) Subjectless Clauses (& Verbless Clauses)


All clauses are either finite or nonfinite. While only finite clauses can be independent (and main), both finite and nonfinite clauses can be dependent (or subordinate). Nonfinite clauses can only be dependent.

A finite clause has an explicit subject and a finite (complete) verb: e.g., takes, took, can work, has worked, is writing, was written:

We can move in together | if you are being transferred here.

Main indep. clause: S. + V. Dependent if-clause: S. + V.

A nonfinite clause is a reduced finite clause with an implicit subject (shared with the main clause) and a nonfinite (incomplete) verb: e.g., to work, having worked, taken, knowing:

After being transferred here, | you can move in together with us.

Deped. -ing clause: [S.] + V. Main indent clause: S. + V.

[= After you are transferred here, you can move in together with us.]

There are also verbless clauses, which include sentences with the so-called absolute clauses (i.e., nonfinite clauses with their own subjects and predicatives instead of verbs) and reduced relative and adverbial clauses:

Although always helpful, | he was not much liked.

Deped. verbless cl.: [S.] + V. Main indent clause: S. + V.

[= Although he was always helpful, he was not much liked.]


Clause Structures in English


English clauses can be classified by their structure:

Subject + Verb (intransitive) Subject + Verb (transitive) + Object

The kids | are swimming. The students | are swimming | the long distance.

Subject + Verb (linking) + Subject Complement Subject + Verb (transitive) + Indirect Object

The kids | are | happy. Laura | called | me.

The students | feel | happy.

Subject + Verb (trans.) + Indir. Object + Dir. Object Subject + Verb (trans.) + Indir. Object + Preposit. Complement

The kids | made | me | a cake. He | informed | us | of | the robbery.

Subject + Verb (trans.) + Object + Object Complement

This | made | us | happy.


Traditional Sentence Structures in English


English differentiates between four types of sentences:


Simple Sentences

Finite Clauses

⦁ Nominal sentence ⦁ Verbal sentence

⦁ Adjectival sentence ⦁ Gerund sentence

For he is a jolly good fellow. The kids like trains.

nominal sentence verbal sentence

He is neither sane nor brilliant. His hobby is collecting old photographs.

adjectival sentence gerund sentence

In the lumen of the large intestine, inulin becomes a source of nutrition for saprophytes and beneficial bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, and also retains fluid in the lumen of the intestine.

A verbal sentence with a compound predicate; the comma before the second verb, although grammatically incorrect, is used to make it easier to read.

Compound Sentences

There are no rattlesnakes in this canyon, or so our guide tells us.

John plays basketball well, yet his favorite sport is badminton.

The tourists huddled in the shade, for it had been a long, hot day.

No one has looked on life as a sport; it has always been felt as a harsh experience.

They lost the war; consequently, their whole country was occupied.

The law has at last passed: next year, all cars will be tested for environmental compliance.


Complex Sentences

Finite Clauses

Sentence with nominal wh-clause ⦁ Sentence with adverbial clause

Sentence with relative clause ⦁ Sentence with comparative clause

Nonfinite Clauses

⦁ Sentence with a past -ed participial clause ⦁ Sentence with an absolute clause

⦁ Sentence with a present -ing participial clause ⦁ Sentence with a verbless clause

⦁ Sentence with a to-infinitive clause ⦁ Sentence with a bare-infinitive clause

⦁ Sentence with a fused participle ⦁ Sentence with a small clause (reduced that-clause)

What made me happy was seeing you. You can't ignore the fact that he was drunk.

sentence with a nominal subject wh-clause sentence with a content that-clause

He told me that he is leaving. He bought me a gift that he couldn't really afford.

sentence with a complement that-clause sentence with a relative that-clause

I'll be there at nine if I can catch the early train. This is a lot more difficult than I expected.

sentence with an adverbial clause sentence with a comparative clause

The old lady driving the horse was dressed in black. Much discouraged, I moved on to Philadelphia.

sentence with an -ing participle clause sentence with an -ed participle clause

I can understand his wanting to go. These are the conditions most common in children.

sentence with a fused participle (possessive with gerund) sentence with a verbless clause (reduced relative clause)

They made the professor forget his notes. You must book early to secure a seat.

sentence with bare-infinitive clause sentence with to-infinitive clause

The house empty once more, I fell asleep quickly. Susan found the job very difficult.

sentence with an absolute clause sentence with a small clause (reduced that-clause)

Compound-Complex (Complex-Compound) Sentences

Embedded (or Nested) Relative Clause:

[Natalya’s sister, [who is younger], graduated from Lincoln High School], and [Natalya graduated from Oxford University].

Embedded (or Pseudo-Supplemental) Adverbial Clause:

[Laura forgot her friend's birthday], [but, [when she finally remembered], she sent her a card].

Embedded Nonfinite Clause:

[Laura doesn’t know [how to bake bread]], so [she buys it already made].

Multiple Embedded Clauses:

He said [that, [if, [when you’ve finished], you’d close the door], he’d be very grateful].


Fragment Sentences

Ads & Marketing Exclamations Spoken Language

What a pity! You and your headaches! You fool.

No taxation without representation. Nice try, Eddy! Got it.

Open Monday through Friday. No way! For example, this one.

20% off any item! Why not? Because I said so.


Clause-Linking Strategies in English


To reiterate, most English sentences consist of an independent clause linked through either of these clause-linking devices:

1. Parataxis (Coordination or Juxtaposition):

Adding a semantically independent, syntactically parallel, equal clause ⟶ compound sentence

  • Syndetic parataxis: Coordination with coordinating conjunctions (+ punctuation)

  • Asyndetic parataxis: Juxtaposition without any conjunctions (+ punctuation)

2. Hypotaxis (Subordination or Juxtaposition):

Adding a semantically and syntactically dependent, nonparallel, unequal clause ⟶ complex sentence

  • Syndetic hypotaxis: Subordination with subordinating conjunctions (+ punctuation)

  • Asyndetic hypotaxis: Juxtaposition without any conjunctions (+ punctuation)

3. Parenthesis (Supplementation, Apposition, Quasi-Coordination):

Adding a syntactically supplemental, parenthetical, or semantically equivalent structure ⟶ supplementive sentence

  • Anchored parenthesis: Equivalence or quasi-coordination (appositives) (+ punctuation)

  • Parenthetical supplementation: Loosely attached elements (comments, tags, inserts) (+ punctuation)


Finite Subordination in English: Four Main Types of Dependent Clauses in English


The table below provides an overview of the typical dependent clauses constructed with FINITE verbs and related subordinators used in English (with the multiple-use subordinators marked with asterisk*):

Here is the more detailed account of the use of relative clauses in English. Check my other post on the remaining causes-linking strategies in the English language.


Finite Subordination (Hypotaxis)


Adverbial Clauses with Conjunction↡

(Syndetic Hypotaxis)

Like adverbs, adverbial clauses can indicate such concepts as time, place, manner, purpose, cause, result, condition, contrast, concession, etc., using the subordinating conjunctions after, although, as, because, before, if, since, unless, when, while, etc.

An English sentence with the canonical (neutral, default, unmarked) word order starts with the subject that is followed by the verb, and then, if appropriate, with a complement or an object (if the verb is transitive):

Canonical Simple Sentence = SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT/ COMPLEMENT

For example:

I finished my popcorn.

Subject Verb Object
I finished first.
Subject Verb Complement

These three elements constitute the core of any English sentence, which must remain intact and not interrupted by any unrelated words (unless they are integral modifiers) or punctuation so that the sentence can make sense. The core should also preferably remain at the beginning of the sentence with any additional and supplemental details added after the core.

Should any other constituent (e.g., a dependent clause) come before the subject, it should be separated with an introductory comma. If any constituent interrupts the link between the subject and the verb, it should be isolated from the rest of the sentence by being enclosed with a pair of punctuation marks (commas, dashes, or parentheses).


Finally-Positioned Adverbial Clause (Canonical)

In English complex sentences, finite subordinate clauses have their own subjects, just like main clauses. In a canonical complex sentence, to preserve the initial position of the main clause’s subject, the subordinate clause is placed after the main clause. In other words, in complex sentences with the canonical (neutral) word order, the subordinate clause is positioned at the end:


For example:

[I had finished my popcorn] [before the movie started].

Main Clause Subordinate Clause

When reading such a sentence, the subordinating conjunction (when, before, if, where, as soon as, while, since, etc.) tells us that there is a dependent clause added to the main clause, while signalling where the main clause ends and the dependent clause starts.

🚩 In English, canonical structures should remain unmarked, so no punctuation should interrupt the core of a canonical sentence with an adverbial clause. The subordinating conjunction is sufficient to signal the boundary between the clauses.


Initially-Positioned (Fronted) Adverbial Clause (Noncanonical)

Canonically, the finally-positioned adverbial clause receives the neutral focus-stress, typically providing new information. However, if we want to shift the emphasis by topicalizing the adverbial clause—to connect it with the previous sentence or to contrast it in the discourse—we place the adverbial subordinate clause before the main clause as part of the process called fronting:


For example:

Before the movie even started, I had finished my popcorn.

Subordinate Clause Main Clause

In English, fronting tends to trigger the use of an introductory comma, which also functions as a subject-marking comma, signalling that there is an element(s) preceding the subject of the sentence (main clause) and marking where such an element ends and the subject starts.

In this case, the subject-marking introductory comma marks the boundary between the subordinate and the main clauses. Placed right before the subject of the main clause, the comma signals the disruption of the canonical order of the sentence and guides us towards the core of the sentence.

In English, fronting triggers the use of a subject-marking introductory comma, which signals that the order of the sentence is irregular and helps us locate the main subject of the sentence.

🚩 So, when reading such a sentence, the initial subordinating conjunction immediately tells us that we are dealing with an adverbial clause in a complex sentence and should be looking for a comma that marks the boundary between the clauses as well as the position of the subject of the main clause.


Medially-Positioned (Interrupting) Adverbial Clause (Noncanonical)

An adverbial clause can also be positioned medially, which means that it interrupts the main clause. Any element that interrupts the linear connection between the subject and the verb should be isolated (set off, enclosed) with a pair of punctuation marks—commas, dashes, or parentheses—as an interrupting element:


For example:

I got my popcorn and, before the movie even started, devoured it all.

Main Clause Subordinate Clause Main Clause

I got my popcorn andbefore the movie even starteddevoured it all.

Use dashes to signal a more dramatic interruption or a comment you want to draw attention to.

I got my popcorn and (before the movie even started) devoured it all.

Use parentheses to signal a less important comment, a reference or background detail.

Embedded and Matrix Clauses

A subordinate clause that interrupts another subordinate clause has a special name, embedded, to differentiate it from a regular subordinate clause. The clause that has another clause embedded within it is called matrix (to differentiate it from the main clause).

The main and matrix clause may or may not coincide because subordination is recursive, which means that subordinate clauses can have their own subordinate clauses. So, if a subordinate clause is embedded within another subordinate clause, such sentence would have a main clause and a matrix clause:

A sensitive person is one [who, [because he has corns himself], always treads on other people’s toes].

Oscar Wilde

In the above sentence:

a sensitive person is one: the main clause

who always treads on other people’s toes: the matrix clause

because he has corns himself: the embedded subordinate clause

who, because he has corns himself, always treads on other people’s toes: the subordinate (or superordinate) clause


Integral, Peripheral & Parenthetical Clauses

Canonical adverbial clauses are essential and integral to the meaning of the main clause, and their canonical position is after the main clause. Therefore, integral adverbial clauses in the sentence-final position should not be marked by any punctuation:

[I will call you] [when I am in the city].

Noncanonical adverbial clauses are typically marked with punctuation to signal the disruption of the canonical word order and to guide us toward the subject of the main clause:

[When I am in the city], [I will call you].

The boundaries of the English noncanonical adverbial clauses are marked with a subordinating conjunction on one end and a comma on the other end.

Adverbial clauses can also be semantically peripheral or pragmatically parenthetical, which should be accordingly marked with punctuation.

Integral, peripheral, and parenthetical adverbial clauses tend to differ semantically and/or pragmatically:

  • Integral Clauses & Primary Uses: Integral clauses are semantically closely related to the event described in the main clause, expressing the agent’s point of view (POV).

  • Peripheral Clauses & Secondary Uses: Peripheral clauses are semantically less closely related to the main clause’s event, often used as a reminder of the previous discourse, as a backgrounded topic, or as an afterthought. Other peripheral uses of adverbial clauses include those marking contrast or concession.

  • Parenthetical Clauses (Comment Clauses): Pragmatically parenthetical comment clauses comment on what is said in the main clause from the speaker’s point of view (POV).


Primary vs. Secondary Uses

In historical literature, it is commonly assumed that subordinate clauses are derived from paratactic (juxtaposed) sentences, which narrated the events as they linearly developed in time. Therefore, linguists believe the initial (primary) uses of subordinating conjunctions were temporal.

Some temporal and other subordinating conjunctions (since, as, so that, when, while) eventually acquired secondary (and even tertiary) uses, which are peripherally (semantically less closely) related to the main clause’s event. To distinguish their primary and secondary uses, grammarians instruct that the non-primary uses be marked with punctuation (comma, dash), whether they are sentence-initial or sentence-final.

The use of punctuation is additionally warranted by the semantic and intonational difference.


Focusing Test: Integral vs. Peripheral Uses

Only integral clauses can be focused, i.e., provide new information, which cannot be peripheral or parenthetical. To verify this focusing property, we can use focusing devices, including the it-cleft focusing test.

The focusing ability of it-clefts is a useful tool for distinguishing integral (essential) adverbial clauses from peripheral (loosely related) ones. To distinguish them from the primary uses in semantically integral clauses, grammarians instruct that the non-primary uses be marked with commas, whether they are in the beginning or at the end of the sentence.


Primary vs. Peripheral Uses, Integral vs. Peripheral Clauses:

Because vs. Since Reason-Clauses

For example, the because-clause below informs us for the first time of the reason for the main action:

He called you [because he was worried].

topic focus

With since instead of because, the adverbial clause loses its emphasis and reads as a reminder of the reason for the main action (i.e., as a backgrounded topic):

He called you, [since he was worried].

focus backgrounded topic

We can verify this backgrounding aspect of the since-clause by using the it-cleft focusing test:

It is because he was worried that he called you.

*It is since he was worried that he called you.

The primary use of since is temporal, which means that it should be focalized when used to express the time passed since a certain point of time:

He has not called us [since his wife left him]. [= He has not called us since the time when his wife left him.]

It is [since his wife left him] that he has not called us.


Primary & Integral Uses of Adverbial Clauses


Time/ Place/ Cause/ Reason/ Purpose/ Manner/ Purpose of Avoidance/ Result/ Condition/ Subjunctive Condition / Degree

Primary Uses & Integral Uses

after because as if before

before lest

once if so that

since in case


when unless




Introductory (Initial) Position Noncanonical Word Order

Before the movie even started, I had finished my popcorn.
Introductory time adverbial clause is separated with comma to signal broken word order.
As soon as the mailman came, Terry ran to the door.


Closing (Final) Position Canonical Word Order

I had finished my popcorn before the movie even started.
closing time adverbial clause
The theater gets really quiet when the movie starts.


Interrupting (Medial) Position Noncanonical Word Order

I got my popcorn and, before the movie even started, devoured it all.
Interrupting time adverbial clause is set off by commas as an interrupting element

Time & Place Clauses:

When, As, While, Before, After, Once, As Soon As, Until, Where

Temporal clauses describe the chronologically preceding or simultaneous events:

When I’m having a bath, the doorbell always rings. primary when-clause: temporal (integral)

The doorbell always rings when I’m having a bath.

While you were reading the paper, I was working. primary while-clause: temporal (integral)

I was working while you were reading the paper.

Before the movie even started, I had finished my popcorn. primary before-clause: temporal (integral)

I had finished my popcorn before the movie even started.

Once they were in bed, they promptly fell asleep. primary once-clause: temporal (integral)

Once in bed, they promptly fell asleep. reduced once-clause

George worked until he couldn't stand on his feet anymore. primary until-clause: temporal (integral)

They sat and chatted until his brother showed tip. primary until-clause can only be closing

Leave the pie in the oven until thoroughly cooked. reduced until-clause

As soon as the gates were open, the crowds rushed in. primary as soon as-clause: temporal (integral)

The crowds rushed in as soon as the gates were open.

[= The minute/ The moment you hear any news, let me know.]

We found broken glass where the accident had occurred. primary where-clause: place (integral)

Where the accident had occurred, we found broken glass.

The lamb followed Mary everywhere she went. primary where-clause: place (integral)

Everywhere she went, the lamb followed Mary.


As-Clause: Multiple Uses

As introduces different kinds of subordinate clauses. As-clause has two primary uses: time and manner:


Time As-Clause

We use as to connect two events which happened at the same time. As has a meaning similar to when. Just can be added for emphasis:

The crowd began to shout angrily as the police arrived. primary as-clause: temporal (integral)

I saw the thief (just) as he was leaving the building.

As I was leaving the house, I picked up an umbrella. primary as-clause: temporal (integral)

I picked up an umbrella as I was leaving the house.

[= I picked up an umbrella when I was leaving the house.]


Manner As-Clause

The as-clause, which answers the question how?, is the predicate of the sentence below:

The results of the mailing are as you predicted. primary as-clause: manner (integral)

[= The results of the mailing are the way you predicted.]


Similarity/Comparison As-Clause (Not Comparative)

As-clause expressing similarity or comparison. This is an adverbial clause, not a comparative clause. Just can be added for emphasis. We can replace as with like:

He behaved badly, (just) as I thought he would.


Comment As-Clause

Everyone knows that taxes are unpopular.

As everyone knows, taxes are unpopular.

It often happens that the meeting becomes very noisy.

The meeting, as often happens, became very noisy.


As-Preposition (As = Being)

As can express the meaning of the verb be:

As your father, I have a duty to give you advice. [= Being your father…]

She worked as a model before she got married. [= She was a model.]

As can come before not only a noun phrase, but an adjective or a participle:

The police described him to be a dangerous criminal.

The police described him as a dangerous criminal.


As (= Although)

Adjective/ Adverb/ Noun + As + Clause

As and though can be used in a special structure after an adjective, adverb, or noun. In this case, they both mean the concessive although, and suggest an emphatic contrast. (In AmE only as is normally used like this; though is unusual.)

Cold as it was, we went out. [= Although it was very cold, ...]

Bravely as they fought, they had no chance of winning.

Much as I respect your point of view, I can’t agree.

Strange though it may seem, I don’t like watching cricket.

Scot though she was, she supported the English team.

In American English, as ... as ... is common:

As cold as it was, we went out.


Reason-Clauses: As, Because, Since, and For

All four of these words can be used to refer to the reason for something. However, they are not used in the same way.


As- and Since-Clauses

As and since are used when the reason is already known to the listener/reader, or when it is not the most important part of the sentence. As- and since-clauses often come at the beginning of sentences:

As it's raining again, we'll have to stay at home.

Since he had not paid his bill, his electricity was cut off.

When placed after the main clause, as- and since-clauses can be used as backgrounded clauses, referring to old or presupposed information:

We'll have to stay at home, as it's raining again.

His electricity was cut off, since he had not paid his bill.

[= His electricity was cut off, since, as you know, he had not paid his bill.]

As- and since-clauses can also be added as afterthought remarks. As such it may come off as a passive aggressive remark:

I am going to keep quiet, since you seem to know what I want to say.

As- and since-clauses are relatively formal; in an informal style, the same ideas are often expressed with so:

It's raining again, so we'll have to stay at home.



Because puts more emphasis on the reason, and most often introduces new information that is not known to the listener/reader:

Because I was ill for six months, I lost my job.

When the reason is the most important part of the sentence, the because-clause usually comes at the end:

Why am I leaving? I'm leaving because I’m fed up!

As it provides new information, because-clause can also stand alone:

“Why are you laughing?”

Because you look so funny.

Since- and as-clauses, which cannot present new information, cannot be used as standalone clauses:

“Why are you laughing?”

* Since you look so funny.” / “As you look so funny.

We often use because-clauses to express the speaker’s rationale (the speaker’s POV comment):

You didn't tell me the truth, because I found the money in your room.

[= You didn't tell me the truth, which I know because I found the money in your room.]

👉 In sentences with because-clauses expressing the speaker’s rationale, the because-clause has the semantic weight of a conjunctive adverb rather than a subordinating conjunction:

Somebody could have left it in the corridor, because it does happen.

I have nothing in my bank account, because I checked this morning.

Because-clauses in negative sentences are inherently ambiguous, which in speech can be resolved by comma intonation and in writing by using punctuation. Notice how a comma changes the meaning of the because-clause:

I didn't go to the exhibition because I was interested. I went there to see Sandra.

I didn't go to the exhibition, because I was busy. I'm sorry I missed it.

Grace didn’t do it because she was angry. She did it because she was right.

Grace didn’t do it, because she was angry. She regrets it now.



For introduces new information but suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. As such, a for-clause could almost be given in brackets. For-clauses never come at the beginning of sentences and cannot stand alone.

🎵 For, used in this sense, is most common in a formal written style:

I decided to stop and have lunch—for I was feeling hungry.


As, When, and While: Simultaneous Events

To talk about actions or situations that take place at the same time, we can use as, when, or while. There are some differences, however.


Background Action: As, When, or While

We can use all three words to introduce a longer “background” action or situation, which is or was going on when something else happens or happened:

As I was walking down the street, I saw Joe driving a Porsche.

The telephone always rings when you are having a bath.

While they were playing cards, somebody broke into the house.

As-, when- and while-clauses can go at the beginning or end of sentences, but subordinate clauses usually introduce less important information, and most often go at the beginning.

A progressive tense is usually used for the longer background action or situation (was walking; are having; were playing). But as and while can be used with a simple tense, especially with a “state” verb like sit, lie, or grow:

As I sat reading the paper, the door burst open.


Simultaneous Long Actions: While, As

We usually use while to say that two longer actions or situations go or went on at the same time. We can use progressive or simple tenses:

While you were reading the paper, I was working.

John cooked supper while I watched TV.

As is used (with simple tenses) to talk about two situations that develop or change together:

As I get older, I get more optimistic.

We prefer when to refer to ages and periods of life:

When I was a child, we lived in London.

His parents died when he was twelve.


Simultaneous Short Actions: (Just) As, (Just) When

We usually use (just) as to say that two short actions or events happen or happened at the same time:

As I opened my eyes, I heard a strange voice.

Mary always arrives just as I start work.

(Just) when is also possible:

I thought of it just when you opened your mouth.


Reduced Clauses with When and While

It is often possible to leave out subject + be after when (especially when it means whenever), and after while. This is rather formal:

Don't forget to signal when turning right.

[= Don't forget to signal when you are turning right.]

Climb when ready.

[= Climb when you are ready.]

While in Germany, he got to know a family of musicians.

[= While he was in Germany, he got to know a family of musicians.]


Peripheral Adverbial Clauses


Concession/ Correlative Concession/ Contrasting

Peripheral Clauses

although given no matter (what) while

though (even) if in spite (of) whereas

even though if (+at least/also) despite (of) unlike

albeit if however whilst

nevertheless whether ... or ... whatever



Always separated with a comma (or a dash)

Even though she grew up in Tehran, she doesn't speak Farsi. introductory concession clause

She doesn't speak Farsi, even though she grew up in Tehran. closing concession clause

She doesn't speak Farsi (although she grew up in Tehran) or any other foreign language. interrupting concession clause

He gave me a beer, when what I’d asked for was a shandy. secondary when-clause: concession (peripheral)

I like skiing, while my wife likes swimming. secondary while-clause: contrasting (peripheral)

If he's poor, he's at least honest. secondary if-clause: correlative concession (can only be fronted)

The house is sumptuous, if slightly smaller than we’d have liked. elliptical if-concession (can only be closing)

We cannot focalize adverbial clauses linked with the concessive or contrasting subordinating conjunctions (although, while, whereas, etc.). Such adverbial clauses can only be peripheral because they are semantically less closely connected to the event described in the main clause:

Fred went to the meeting, although he didn’t want to. concession clause

* It is although he didn’t want to that Fred went to the meeting.

Although he didn’t want to, Fred went to the meeting.

William has poor eyesight, whereas Sharon has poor hearing. contrasting clause

Whereas Sharon has poor hearing, William has poor eyesight.


Time/ Cause/ Purpose/ Result

Secondary Peripheral Uses

since so that

as when



Always separated with a comma (or a dash)

We've been living in London since I got this job. vs. We've been living in London, since we can afford it.

since-clause in its primary (integral) meaning: time since-clause in its secondary (peripheral) meaning: reason

Fear overwhelmed me as I approached my father. vs. Fear overwhelmed me, as I approached my father.

[Fear overwhelmed me when ...] [Fear overwhelmed me because ...]

as-clause in its primary (integral) meaning: time as-clause in its secondary (peripheral) meaning: reason

We left early so that we could get there on time. vs. We left early, so that we got there on time.

so that-clause in its primary (integral) meaning: purpose so that-clause in its secondary (peripheral) meaning: result


Primary & Secondary Uses of As- and Since-Clauses: Time vs. Reason

Both as- and since-clauses have primary temporal uses:

Since we’ve separated, I haven’t seen her. She called me as I was leaving.

In their secondary uses, as- and since-clauses give a reason that is already known (old information) or expected to be known (given information). Placing these clauses at the end of the sentence creates an effect of a reminder or an afterthought remark, which should be separated by a comma. A comma also tells us that we should not interpret these clauses as having temporal meaning:

You are forgiven, since you’ve apologized. As it was raining, I brought an umbrella.

If you want to provide the reason as the new information, don’t use as or since-clauses (which are more appropriate as clauses that remind of the reason). Instead use because-clauses.

More examples of since-clauses from academic literature and journalistic articles:

Japan’s claim to commercial whaling as a cultural expression is surely a shaky one, since it only began large-scale whaling in the 20th century—but it was taught to them by European whalers.

Revelations that Michael Jordan had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling barely dented his appeal, since the story reinforced the image of him as a fierce competitor.

In September, I emailed: Since you've chosen not to publish based on the information we have and we're not actively pursuing any more information, then I think it's reasonable to conclude that The Star is passing on this story.

The Guardian - Opinion

Since the common mammalian ancestor of these species do not have a descended larynx, this convergence indicates that selective evolution may have taken place.

From this discovery, Fitch (2000) proposed that the motivation for the descent of the larynx was not only caused by the need for speech in humans, since this descended larynx in animals did not cause them to speak, unlike humans.


So That-Clause: Purpose vs. Result, Manner & Degree

So occurs before a complement that-clause in constructions meaning purpose vs. result, as well as manner and degree.

The manner and purpose uses are considered primary and integral.

When used to mean manner, it is equivalent to in such a way:

He’d arranged the program so that we had lots of time to discuss the papers. primary manner (integral)

He’d arranged the program in such a way that we had lots of time to discuss the papers.

Firmly compress the soil in the pot so that the plant is secure. primary manner (integral)

Firmly compress the soil in the pot in such a way that the plant is secure.

The most common uses of so that convey either purpose or result. When used to mean purpose, it is equivalent to the formal in order that:

I disconnected the phone so that we could talk undisturbed. primary purpose (integral)

I disconnected the phone in order that we could talk undisturbed. primary purpose (integral)

However, so that is less formal. In an informal style, that can be dropped after so:

She's staying here for six months so (that) she can perfect her English. primary purpose (integral)

When used to mean result, it’s interpreted as a secondary peripheral clause, which should be separated by a comma (to distinguish from the primary use):

I've reorganized my files, so that I can easily find what I'm looking for. secondary result (peripheral)

Compare the purpose and result clauses:

She walked fast so that she could arrive before us. primary purpose (integral)

She walked fast, so (that) she arrived before us. secondary result (peripheral)

The mother has given herself up as prey so that her babies could escape. primary: purpose (integral)

The mother gave herself up as prey, so (that) her babies managed to escape. secondary: result (peripheral)

So that is often followed by auxiliary verbs, such as can or will. The use of may is more formal:

I got up early so that I would get to the airport on time. primary purpose (integral)

I got up early, so (that) I could get to the airport on time. secondary result (peripheral)

So that our customers should not soil their hands, we issued white gloves. primary purpose (integral)

We send monthly reports so that they may have full information.

I stepped aside so that she might come in.

A young boy climbed into the apple tree and shook the branches, so that the fruit fell down.

So that can often be interpreted either way. Eventually, it is up to the author to decide which way we should interpret the text. The intention is generally revealed through the use of any punctuation.

Here are some examples from literary works:

We booked early so (that) we could be sure of getting good seats.

As far as I can tell, these award shows exist so that very rich people can feel good about themselves.

It's not necessary to go around with 25 marbles in your pocket and lay out 5 rows of 5 marbles again and again so that you get that 5 × 5 = 25.

Only one of the doors was opened, so that it was difficult to fit in with the dog …

I'm putting it in the oven now, so that it'll be ready by seven o'clock.

The stranger's question surprised me, so that I temporarily lost my tongue.

As teens, they shared a pair of blue jeans that they would trade back and forth, so that they could take turns wearing them on dates.

In the sentence below, for example, the clause conveys purpose. However, the author placed a comma before the conjunction to signal that it is an added comment, or an afterthought remark:

I wish I could teach him Italian or Greek or French, so that he could visit those beautiful countries and speak their languages.


So (That) (Subordinating Conjunction) vs. So (Coordinating Conjunction)

The subordinating conjunction so that can be easily mistaken for the coordinating conjunction so. However, the difference between them is quite clear:

I've come early so (that) we could talk. primary so that-clause: purpose (integral)

I've come early, so (that) we can talk. secondary so that-clause: result (peripheral)

I've come early, so let's talk. compound sentence linked with the coordinating conjunction so

One way to distinguish between so and so that is to determine intention. We use so that when the action taken in the subordinate clause is intentional; we use so when the action is unintentional:

Mrs. Jones is trying to make my life hell so (that) I give in my notice. primary: purpose (integral)

Mrs. Jones is trying to make my life hell, so I gave in my notice. compound sentence


So That (Result) vs. So … That … (Degree)

The conjunction so that can also be used in degree clauses, with an adjective or an adverb inserted after so:

He loves her passionately, so that he is even willing to give up his job for her. secondary so that-clause: result (peripheral)

He loves her so passionately that he is even willing to give up his job for her. primary so… that…-clause: degree (integral)


Integral Adverbial vs. Supplemental Clauses


Time/ Place/ Cause/ Purpose/ Condition

Comments (Asides or Afterthoughts)



Enclosed with commas (dashes or parentheses) in any position

A primary adverbial clause can become supplemental or parenthetical when used as an interrupting aside or as a delayed closing afterthought, e.g., a comment clause (expressing the speaker’s POV).

For example, compare:

Please reply if you haven't done so already. vs. Please reply, if you haven't done so already, of course.

integral condition if-clause supplemental comment if-adverbial clause

They left because it's the weekend. vs. They left, because I can't hear anything.

integral reason because-clause supplemental comment reason because-clause

They may not enter unless they have a pass. vs. They may not enter—unless they have a pass.

integral condition unless-clause supplemental comment condition unless-clause

He looked as if he didn't recognize the place. vs. He looked around, as if he didn't recognize the place.

integral predicative as if-clause supplemental comment manner as if-clause

Compare the integral and parenthetical uses:

He’s going to buy the house if he can afford it. integral if-clause: condition

He’s going to buy the house, if I'm not mistaken. supplementalif-clause: speaker’s comment

He’s going to buy the house, if you must know. supplemental if-clause: speaker’s comment

Given that Church and politics have so much in common, is there anything the former can learn from the latter? integral (fronted) given-clause: condition contingency

Is there anything the Church can learn from politics given that Church and politics have so much in common? integral (canonical) given-clause: condition contingency

Is there anything the Church can learn from politics, given that Church and politics have so much in common? supplemental given-clause: condition contingency (backgrounded as an old topic)

In the sentence, below, semantically, the integral temporal where-clause must be positioned finally, as the dependent of the head somewhere. In the second sentence, however, somewhere has two modifiers, nice and where we can get a good pizza, the second one added as an additional modifier or an appositional parenthetical comment:

Let’s go somewhere where we can get a good pizza. integral (predicative) where-clause: place

Let’s go somewhere nice, where we can get a good pizza. supplemental where-clause: place

Another case of a predicative use of an adverbial clause:

The results are as you predicted. integral (predicative) as-clause: manner

The results of the mailing are disappointing, as you predicted. backgrounded as-clause: manner

As you predicted, the results of the mailing are disappointing. topicalized as-clause: manner


Other Adverbial Clause Constructions


Purpose Clauses of Avoidance:

Step away from the machine before you get hurt.

He trembled lest they should see through his disguise.

Take your umbrella in case it rains.

She was never game to join in for fear of being ridiculed.

Subjunctive Condition Clauses:

If you should need any help, don’t hesitate to call me.

They want flexibility in case the market should fail.

Had they committed a similar crime here, they would have got a jail sentence.

Proportion Clauses:

Things got worse and worse as time went on.

As children get older, women are more likely to work outside the home.

Kids! The older they get, the more trouble they become.

The more tickets you can sell, the better. [= The more tickets you can sell, the better it will be.]

Comparison/Similarity Clauses:

He behaved badly, (just) as I thought he would.

Restriction Clauses:

As westerns go, this one doesn’t.

Time Magazine

Correlative Adverbial Clauses:

If Mary is a child, then I am a child, too.

She didn’t reject his offer in spite of his wealth but because of it.


Adverbial Clauses via Juxtaposition ↡

(Asyndetic Hypotaxis)


Subjunctive Condition Clauses

Had they committed a similar crime here, they would have got a jail sentence.

Dare a woman have a child, she’s putting her job at risk.

Should you wish to cancel your order, please contact our customer service department.

Were the economy to slow down too quickly, there would be major problems.


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