Relative Adverbs

Relative adverbs are words that give us more description for nouns, the people, places, or things being discussed. Let's get to know them better.

"Relative Adverbs" in the English Grammar

What Are Relative Adverbs?

Relative adverbs as their name suggests, are connectors (or joiners). They join clauses together.

They are used at the beginning of an adjective clause which is a kind of relative clause.

English Relative Adverbs

In English, we have three main relative adverbs:

  1. When → refers to time
  2. Where → refers to place
  3. Why → refers to reason


A relative adverb can nearly always be used with a preposition and the relative pronoun 'which.'

How Relative Adverbs Function?

Relative adverbs head a relative clause and act as its subject or object. They also act as a conjunction and connect relative clauses to nouns or pronouns in other clauses.
So, basically, they do two main jobs simultaneously:

  1. They introduce adjective clauses.
  2. They join nouns or pronouns to relative clauses.

Relative Adverbs with Adjective Clauses

A relative adverb is used to start a description (which is called an adjective clause) for a noun. They provide more information about the noun or pronoun in the sentence.
Consider these sentences:

This is the hospital.

My mom gave birth to me.

They are both correct sentences, but if we want to join them and make them a sentence, we need a relative adverb.:

This is the hospital where my mom gave birth to me.

using 'where' as a relative adverb

How Do We Spot Them in a Sentence?

To spot a relative adverb in a sentence, all you need to do is to spot the relative clause. When you spot the relative clause, the relative adverb always come directly before the clause.

I remember the day when he proposed to me.

Relative Adverb of Time

'When' is an adverb of time, so when we want to introduce a relative clause relating to time we use 'when'. It replaces the more formal phrases: 'in which', 'at which', or 'on which'.

I remember the day when I met your mother.

Do you remember the years when our country was not at war?

Relative Adverb of Place

'Where' is an adverb of place, so when we want to introduce a relative clause relating to a location, we use 'where'. It replaces the more formal phrases: 'in which' or 'at which'.
Here is a list of all the relative adverbs of place:

  • Where
  • Whereby
  • Whereon
  • Wherein

This is the restaurant where he took me on our very first date.

This is the city where we took these photos.

A system whereby people could vote by telephone

the cliff side whereon I walked

the situation wherein the information will eventually be used

Relative Adverb: Why

'Why' is an adverb of reason, so when we want to introduce a relative clause relating to why something happened, we use 'why'. It replaces the more formal phrase: 'for which'.

The reason why this has become a problem is still unknown to us.

There is no reason why they cannot get married.


To become acquainted with relative adverbs, it is important to know what relative clauses are. Relative clauses give extra information about the main clause. Relative adverbs come before the relative clause. Here are the main relative adverbs:

  • When: to refer to time
  • Where: to refer to locations and places
  • Why: to refer to reasons


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