Relative adverbs (when, where, why)

(Use of relative adverbs in English grammar)

Table of contents – relative adverbs

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of relative adverbs
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What are relative adverbs (when, where, why)? How are they used?

In English, there are three relative adverbs, which are ‘when, where, why’. They serve to introduce relative clauses. Such clauses are subordinate clauses that provide additional information on the subject matter of the statement. The information can either be mandatory (which means essential for the understanding of the sentence) or optional (which means irrelevant for the context). Regarding this type of clause, a distinction is made between defining (mandatory) and non-defining relative clauses (optional). Compare in detail:

  • English relative adverbs and their appearance in sentences:
    • when’ … refers to temporal aspects, which means in relation to time:
      • “It was 4 o’clock when the guests arrived.”
      • In 2005, when I was travelling through South America, I met my wife.”
        • Here, the relative adverb ‘when’ is in a non-defining relative clause.
    • where’ … is used with places and locations:
      • “The building where my father works is two hundred years old.”
      • “That’s the shop where I bought my new sports shoes.”
        • The relative adverb ‘where’ appears in a defining relative clause here.
    • why’ … is used concerning reasons:
      • “Can you please give us a reason why we have to do this?”
      • This is exactly why you should wear a helmet.”
  • Note: Besides relative adverbs, there are also the relative pronounswho, which, that, whose, whom’. They can also introduce relative clauses in the same way. Some examples:
    • “The cat that I saw yesterday wasn’t yours.”
    • “The girl whose parents are French isn’t here today.”
  • Furthermore, ‘when, where’ and ‘why’ may also function as question words:
    • Why haven’t you told me that earlier?”
    • Where can I find the post office?”

Further explanations related to the topic ‘Relative adverbs’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use of relative adverbs (where, why, when) in English grammar’ and may also be interesting: