Three Reasons to Learn Relative Adverbs

04 September, 2015

From VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

In an earlier program, we talked about the relative pronouns who, that, and which. We promised to give you more details about how to use relative clauses. In this episode, we look at how the relative adverbs where, when, and why are used.

Let's take a look at how relative adverbs work. An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a sentence. It is often used to show time, manner and place, or degree. The relative pronouns where, when, and why act as adverbs when they join sentences or clauses. Take these two sentences:

This is a swimming pool.
I used to swim in the pool.

Notice how you can put the sentences together with the word where:

This is the pool where I used to swim.

Another way to say that is "This is the pool in which I used to swim." That is a formal way and is usually only found in writing. We use the relative adverb where to show the place of an action.

The relative adverb when tells about the time of an action. Let's look at an example from The Logical Song by the rock group Supertramp.

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

The singer says that life was wonderful when he was young. Later, he uses another adverb to show the world where he could be dependable. A more formal way to say that would be "They showed me a world in which I could be dependable."

We often want to tell the reason for an action. This week, President Obama visited Alaska (see our article on his hike up a glacier) and talked about melting ice. So much ice is melting in Alaska, he said, that sea levels are rising quickly. Here's how he put it:

"The pace of melting is only getting faster. It's now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 -- twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it's one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they're projected to rise another one to four feet this century."

President Obama made one sentence from these two ideas:

Ice is melting very quickly.
Sea levels rose about eight inches in the last 100 years.

His speech has another clause with a relative adverb that combines these ideas:

Ice is melting very quickly.
Scientists predict that sea levels will rise even more.

The words "the reason" or "the reasons" often appear before the relative adverb why, but sometimes they are left out, as in President Obama's speech: "... and why they're projected to rise another one to four feet this century."

Are you ready to try some sentences on your own? Put together these sentences with relative adverbs:

The coffeehouse is in my neighborhood.
He got a job in a coffeehouse.

Is your answer like this?

The coffeehouse where he got a job is in my neighborhood.

Here's another one:

I got home from work.
I saw the dogs playing in the yard.

One way to put these ideas together is,

I saw the dogs playing in the yard when I got home from work.

Finally, let's put these two sentences together.

The dogs frightened the cat.
The cat ran up the tree.

Combine these ideas as:

The dogs are the reason why the cat ran up the tree.

You will sometimes hear that instead of why after the word reason as in,

The dogs are the reason that the cat ran up the tree.

We leave you with Earth Wind and Fire singing Reasons

I can't find the reasons
But my love for you it won't disappear
Can't find the reasons, why I love you, my baby

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm Jonathan Evans.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

adverbn. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree

dependable adj. able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed; able to be depended on

meltv. to change or to cause (something) to change from a solid to a liquid usually because of heat

projectv. to plan, calculate, or estimate (something) for a time in the future

Now it's your turn. Write a sentence with a relative adverb and we'll give you feedback in the comments section. And let us know what you think of the new video quiz for Everyday Gramamr. See the left column above for the quiz.