Adverbials are elements of a sentence which provide information about the verb. They can take a number of forms, and can be found in various locations within a sentence. In a simple example of an adverbial, if someone says “I am going to run a marathon tomorrow,” “tomorrow” is the adverbial, because it informs the listener when the subject of the sentence is going to be running a marathon.
The term “adverbial” is closely related to the term “adverb,” but the two are slightly different. An adverb is an adverbial, but adverbials are not necessarily adverbs. In the phrase “she ran quickly,” “quickly” is acting as an adverbial which provides information about how fast she ran, and it also happens to be an adverb. Adverbials come in a range of flavors, all of which are intended to add information to a sentence to make it more clear or to change its meaning.
One could think of adverbials as parts of a sentence which provide answers to the classic journalistic interrogative: “who, what, where, when, why, and/or how.” In some cases, adverbials act as adjuncts, providing helpful but not critically necessary information, while an adverbial complement adds critical information to a sentence. Adverbial conjuncts can be used to link clauses together, while disjuncts at the start of a sentence provide information about the sentence which follows, as in “however, this assumes that the data from the experiment is correct.”
The positioning of adverbials can jump around in a sentence. Some come before the verb, some come after it, others occur in the middle of a verb phrase, and so forth. It is also possible to have multiple adverbials in a single sentence. Infinitive phrases, prepositional phrases, and noun phrases can all act as adverbials. It can be helpful to know how to identify an adverbial, as the adverbial can provide important information about what is going on in the sentence or phrase.
Topics such as sentence elements are commonly covered in introductory language classes as part of a grammar tutorial, so that students understand how sentences are constructed and learn about the various ways in which sentence structure can be presented. Rules about sentence structure vary between languages, which can sometimes be challenging for language learners. For example, in some languages, the order in which sentence elements are presented is not very important, while in others, it can be critical to the meaning of the sentence.