Relative adverbs are words that are used to start relative clauses. Relative pronouns also start relative clauses. The following question words can act as adverbs for this type of clause:
Identifying them can be confusing because they are not just used as relative adverbs. They also have other purposes. For example, they can be used to introduce questions:
They can also be used to make other types of clauses that are not relative clauses:
The key way to recognise relative adverbs is that they are introducing a relative clause and they come after the noun they are modifying:
So they are giving more information about the noun. We'll now take a look at these three adverbs with relative adverb examples.
Where is an adverb of place, so it is used to refer to location. The place can be any kind of location, such as a country, city, geographical region, house, or shop.
It replaces the preposition plus relative pronoun 'in which' or 'at which', which tend to be used only in formal contexts, such as academic writing or formal speech.
Take a look at these examples. In the first three, preposition + relative pronoun is used, but then the same sentences are presented with where used instead:
When is an adverb of time, and so it is used to introduce a relative clause that relates to time.
So the noun the clause refers to will be a time generally or such things as a time of day, a day, a week, a year, or an era.
Again it replaces a preposition plus relative pronoun, in this case the words 'in which', 'at which', or 'on which', which are reserved for more formal contexts.
Why is an adverb of reason. The relative clause is thus relating to why something happened.
In this case it is replacing 'for which':
We can leave out 'the reason' if the sentence still makes sense without it:
There are certain rules with relative adverbs related to whether the relative clause is defining or non-defining.
Remind yourself of the difference between defining and non-defining relative clauses if you are not sure.
Defining relative clauses provide essential information about the noun being modified, and they cannot be omitted from the sentence. They do not have commas.
Non-Defining relative clauses provide extra or additional information. The additional information is separated by commas.
Where and when relative pronouns can be used in defining or non-defining relative clauses:
Why, though, can only be used in defining relative clauses: