Adverbial determination

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The adverbial determination - also: the adverbial (Pl .: the adverbial ) or the adverbial ( Pl . : the adverbial or adverbial ); Or German: the circumstance determination, circumstance indication - is a term from grammar and describes parts of the sentence that are neither subject , object nor predicative . Adverbials can be represented by any form classes of expressions: by nouns or noun phrases , adjectives, Adverbs , prepositional phrases or through subordinate clauses . Their definition as a uniform class is therefore mostly based on the types of meaning they can mark. These types of meaning are mainly divided into sentence adverbials, which modify the validity of the statement or express an evaluation of the statement, and situation adverbials, which modify properties of the presented situation such as place, time, manner or causal relationships and related things. Many, but not all, adverbial types can also be queried using special question words .


Adverbial and adverb

With adverbial one is grammatical function refers to the functions such. B. subject or object is to be delimited; with adverb one is part of speech referred to such of other parts of speech. B. adjective or preposition is to be delimited. The adverb is thus a part of speech that can be used in the function of an adverbial - or differently. The adverbial is a grammatical function that can be implemented as an adverb - or in another way.

Adverbial and attribute

If the adverbial is defined as a part of a sentence , the occurrences of similar units inside parts of a sentence, i.e. attributes of nouns, are not adverbials in a strict sense:

a) Er geht im Wald spazieren. (im Wald als Adverbial, da vom Verb abhängig)
b) ein Spaziergang im Wald    (im Wald als Attribut, da vom Substantiv abhängig)

In order to indicate the relationship between the two uses, the compromise has been proposed in isolated cases, case b. to be called an "adverbial attribute".

Adverbial and object

Verbs sometimes require a complement that is introduced by a specific preposition, i.e. H. a so-called prepositional object . Therefore there may be cases where adverbials and objects look very similar, since it is typical for adverbials to also be expressed by prepositions:

a) Ich warte auf dem Bahnsteig.  (Ortsangabe, Adverbial)
b) Ich warte auf den Zug.        (Präpositionalobjekt)

The fact that the two uses of "on" have different functions is shown, among other things, by the fact that they can be combined:

c) Ich warte auf dem Bahnsteig auf den Zug.

When asking for a prepositional object, the preposition cannot be omitted; it must continue to be included in the question word, just like the case of the requested object must otherwise be retained in the question word. On the other hand, adverbials can also be replaced completely, including the preposition, by a question adverb:

d) Ich warte auf den Zug. — Worauf warte ich? (Präpositionalobjekt)
e) Ich warte auf dem Bahnsteig. — Wo warte ich? (Adverbial)

The distinction between objects and adverbials can also be seen in the fact that in the case of the prepositional object the preposition cannot be freely chosen and its literal meaning does not seem to be active; the adverbial, on the other hand, can take any form, as long as the desired meaning is conveyed:

a)’ Ich warte auf dem Bahnsteig / in der Halle / drinnen / …
b)’ Ich warte auf den Zug / ?? in den Zug / ?? für den Zug …

Thus, adverbials are generally characterized by the fact that they can depend on the verb, but that the verb does not require any particular formal property (i.e. no case and no particular preposition governs ).

Adverbial, indication and supplement

The distinction between information and additions is essentially based on the compulsory nature of parts of sentences: information is parts of a sentence that can always be omitted, additions can be mandatory. Associated with this are the semantic functions of being a modifier or an argument . The concept of the adverbial runs across this classification. Most adverbials are indications and modifiers, i.e. omissions descriptions of “more detailed circumstances”, but there can also be adverbials that are required of a verb, that is, supplements or arguments of the verb (it just doesn't have a specific formal property required of them):

a) Er benimmt sich wie ein Idiot / idiotisch. / # Er benimmt sich. (# andere Bedeutung)
b) Sie wohnt in München / sehr ruhig / dort. / ? Sie wohnt.

Since adverbial and indication have to be distinguished, the concept of adverbial is just as little congruent with the concept of adjunct . This difference is most evident in directional adverbials (e.g. " hobbling from the playing field / into the cabin "), which are not adjuncts, but are not prepositional objects due to the free choice of prepositions, i.e. are referred to as adverbials (cf. below under local adverbial ).

Significance classes

Adverbial terms are traditionally divided into different classes according to their meaning, which often also correspond to different question forms or other substitutions. The listings in the literature differ and may not be exhaustive. In quite a few short descriptions of adverbials, sentence adverbials are not mentioned, but their affiliation to the class of adverbials is not in dispute.

Subgroup: situation adverbials

Situation adverbials or event adverbials provide more detailed information on the properties of the event or state denoted by the verb, including their classification in larger contexts (e.g. causal chains). Events and states can be understood as a special kind of object that can be described in terms of its properties in the same way as objects denoted by nouns; So there are quite a few parallels between attributes of the noun and adverbials in the verb. Some of the main types of such adverbials are:

Local adverbial (= determination of the location)

  • Place: “The wolf lurked deep in the forest . The wolf was lurking there. "
  • Way / Direction: “The wolves ran into the forest. The wolves came from the forest. "
Directional references have apparently (but this does not preclude the classification as adverbial, see generally the status of arguments above ). Although they are usually listed under the adverbials, sometimes the position is also taken that they could be parts of a compound predicate.
Questions: Where? Where? Where from?

Temporal adverbial (= determining the circumstances of time)

  • Temporal situation: “I wash myself every morning. I then wash myself . "
  • Duration: "He showered for half an hour."
  • Time limit: “He's been showering for half an hour. He read until his eyes closed. "
Questions: When? Since when? By when? How often? How long?

Modal adverbials etc. (= determination of circumstances of the manner and the like. For further examples see also under modal adverb and modal clause )

  • Manner: “I reached the goal with the last of my strength. So I reached the goal. "
  • Instrument:With the help of scissors , Stefan cuts out the picture. Stefan crops the image so that from. "
  • Subject's posture (determining a setting that has the subject to its mentioned in the same sentence action): "He pays reluctantly / like his taxes."
Mostly the question: How?

Kausaladverbiale in a broad sense, incl. Finaladverbiale etc. (= circumstance determination of the reason of the purpose, etc.)

  • Reason (causal adverbial): “ Due to the poor visibility , I missed the sign. That's why I overlooked the sign . "
  • Purpose (final adverbial): “ For a better view , I put on sunglasses. That's why I put on sunglasses. "
  • Condition (conditional adverbial): “ If the weather is nice , we'll go to the outdoor pool tomorrow. Then tomorrow we'll go to the outdoor pool. "
  • Admission, concession (concessional adverbial): “ Despite all the difficulties I achieved my goal. Nevertheless , I reached the goal. "
Questions: Why? Why? How so? What for?

Subgroup: sentence adverbials

Satzadverbiale or Kommentaradverbiale not modify the description, as the event is designed, but aim in various ways to the fact or possibility that it happened, or on properties of the utterance, with a spokesman telling these facts. In other words, they have a propositional or pragmatic reference. Adverbials of this group are mostly not available.

Epistemic adverbials (= determination of the degree of certainty or the origin of a statement)

Example: " Maybe / Allegedly the event is canceled."

Evaluative adverbials (= evaluation of a situation, mostly from the speaker's point of view)

Example: " Fortunately , no one was injured."

Subject-oriented (agentive) adverbials (= evaluation of the behavior of the subject in the context of the facts described).

Example: " Outrageously he refused to pay the bill."
Agentive adverbials are also often evaluative and in this respect are similar to evaluative adverbials, but they contain a statement about a property of the acting subject. Example: Outrageously = “That was outrageous of him. “The purely evaluative adverbials do not result in such paraphrases; they aim at the sentence content as a whole (cf. fortunately ≠? "That was happy of him").

Area adverbials (= restriction of the statement to a range of validity)

Example: " Strictly scientifically (seen) the strawberry is not a berry."

Text adverbials (= clarification of text contexts in which the statement is embedded)

Example: " On the one hand the project is too expensive and on the other hand it is of little use."

Speech act adverbials (= information relating to the status of the utterance of the sentence as an action)

Example: " To be honest, I don't trust Vladimir."

Form classes and the marking of adverbials

Prepositions and adverbs

Prepositions and especially adverbs are the typical means of expressing adverbial functions and do not require any additional grammatical markings. The exact demarcation between prepositions and adverbs is not always clear, and there are also suggestions that at least some adverbs are nothing more than intransitive prepositions. For details see the articles adverb , prepositional adverb and preposition , as well as the topic prepositional object above for delimitation .


In German, adjectives can usually be used adverbially without further marking. Special endings of adjectives appear only for certain meaning classes of adverbials ( fortunately, as the above examples , outrageously ). Many other languages ​​have endings that mark adjectives for adverbial use, e.g. B. the English -ly as in (sing) beautifully.


Adverbials based on verbs are possible in German using a participle form, e.g. B .:

Sie trat lachend ein.
Er griff zitternd nach der Flasche.

This occurrence of the participle can be classified as an adjectival derivation of a verb and thus simply represents another case of adverbial use of adjectives. However, some languages ​​have separate verb forms that are used for adverbial use and differ from normal adjectival participles; Depending on the tradition, such forms are referred to as adverbial participles (especially in the grammar of Slavic and Baltic languages) or as converbs (especially in the grammar of Ural and Turkish languages).


In German, as in related languages, nouns or noun groups ( noun phrases ) can mark certain adverbial functions by putting them in a certain case . So z. B. in German adverbials of duration are marked by accusative (a.) And adverbials of time by genitive (b.); In this case one speaks of the accusative or genitive case as an adverbial case:

a) Sie hat den ganzen Tag gearbeitet.
b) Eines Tages stand ein schwarzer Kater vor unserer Tür.

The accusative in a) differs from an accusative object, among other things, in that it cannot become a nominative in the passive : So you don't get * The whole day was worked, but rather this accusative also remains in the passive: It became the whole Day worked. Adverbial case is therefore not a case governed by the verb , but appears just as free as a preposition, triggered only by the respective adverbial meaning that is to be expressed. Further examples of such adverbial cases are the accusative of directions in Latin and many uses of the instrumental case in Russian .

Although English does not form case forms on nouns, it also allows noun phrases in an adverbial function:

c) I saw John that day (= „an jenem Tag“)
d) John pronounced my name every way imaginable (= „auf jede nur vorstellbare Weise“)

In some languages, case forms take over the functions that prepositions have in German on a large scale: In Hungarian , for example, 19 other case forms are described in addition to the nominative and accusative, but this is due to the fact that in Hungarian adverbial functions such as location, different directions, causal determination, etc. are taken from endings on the noun instead of prepositions (or postpositions).

Subordinate clauses

Whole subordinate clauses can also have the function of an adverbial for the main clause. The respective type of meaning is then often indicated by special (subordinate) conjunctions , e.g. B. because of a causal adverbial clause, although for a concessive adverbial clause, while a temporal adverbial etc. Since a uneingeleiteter subordinate clause preceded by verb ( verb-initial sentence ) also features such. B. can have a conditional, analogous to an if- sentence, these cases also count among the adverbial sentences. In addition, an adverbial clause can also be formed as a free relative clause , which is introduced by a relative adverb , for example:

Wir treffen uns (dort), wo wir letztes Mal gestanden haben.


Adverbial positions in the field model of the German sentence

Adverbials can, in principle, occur in all of the zones that are described by the field model of the German sentence : Vorfeld, Mittelfeld and Nachfeld. Posting is mostly reserved for adverbial subordinate clauses, but the positioning of adverbials in advance is possible without restrictions and often results in a normal ( "unmarked" ) word order. In the middle, a variety of sequence rules interlock and ensure particularly complex patterns. This also shows that the position of the adverbial can depend on the exact meaning class.

Adverbials in the German midfield

The German word order in the middle field is characterized by freedom in the sequence, so that objects and subject on the one hand and various adverbials on the other can be interchanged with one another. Nevertheless, there are arguments in the literature that basic positions can be filtered out. Accordingly, sentence adverbials always have one more basic position at the periphery and situation adverbials closer to the verb. In addition, finer differences can be shown depending on the meaning of the adverbs, which indicate different adverbial positions relative to the position of subject and object. These position classes do not exactly coincide with the traditionally described meaning classes ( see above ); In particular, the class of so-called modal adverbials does not turn out to be uniform from this perspective.

Adverbials of fashion

The syntax of adverbials that indicate the nature of an event is relatively controversial. They are often to be found in positions directly before or after the direct object ( accusative object in case terminology ), for example:

a) Peter will jetzt was konzentriert lesen.
b) Peter will jetzt konzentriert einen Aufsatz lesen.
c) Otto hat heute einen Kollegen heftig beschimpft.
d) Otto hat heute heftig einen Kollegen beschimpft.

The controversial question here is whether the position of the adverbial in front of the direct object in b) and d) is due to special effects, so that only the position after the object would be referred to as the basic position of the adverb. In b) there is the possibility that a subtle difference in meaning arises and a concentrated switch to the class of subject attitudes (see below); in d) there is the possibility that the object has been understood as part of a compound predicate - then the general rule would be that adverbials that describe the course of an event are placed directly in front of the predicate complex.

It should be noted that adverbials of subject attitude generally do not have the same positional properties as those of manner, although they are traditionally both grouped together as "modal adverbials".

Adverbial positions between subject and object

In contrast to adverbials of the manner, there are clear indications for place information, time information and instruments that they take a position in front of the object, but behind the subject. A frequently used criterion to judge this is the sequence in relation to indefinite W pronouns, i.e. H. Uses of the forms who, what, where etc. in the meaning of anyone, anything, anywhere ... The thesis here is that full noun phrases in the word order produce special effects in that they can be pulled forward to create a contrast interpretation or an interpretation as a topic to obtain. The weakly accentuated indefinite pronouns of the wer type , on the other hand, cannot be rearranged in this way, and therefore provide more reliable orientation marks. Under this condition, the aforementioned positioning results, for. B. for local adverbials (bold):

a) … weil wer wo was verloren hat.
b) … ?? weil wo wer was verloren hat.

The position below the subject is also the typical position for adverbials of the subject attitude and for agentive (subject-oriented) adverbials:

a) … da wer bereitwillig den Auftrag übernahm.
b) … ? wenn wer was bereitwillig übernimmt.

Adverbial positions before the subject

Certain adverbial types have positions in front of the subject (in neutrally stressed sentences, such as examples a. And b.), And these are in particular sentence adverbials of the epistemic or evaluative type:

a) … weil wahrscheinlich wer was weggenommen hat.
b) ? … weil wer wahrscheinlich was weggenommen hat.

In addition, most of the other adverbial types can be placed in front of the subject if their status is to be clarified as known information or as a restrictive framework for the following statement (see example e. Below), or if they are meant to be strongly contrasting (especially Example c. Below). The occurrence of such special effects shows that the alternatively possible position further inside the sentence is to be understood as its basic position; one finds a contrast between examples c) to e), which show special stress effects, compared to a) above, where the adverb appears neutral in the same position.

c) dass ja so frugal keiner von uns glaubte, dass man leben könne.
d) dass so schnell keiner das Ersatzteil liefern kann.
e) Im 16. Jahrhundert haben in Deutschland Mönche viel Bier getrunken.

Adverbials in SVO languages

Even if the classifications of the German field model are usually not used in the grammar of other languages, many of the rules are transferred through the relative arrangement of the adverbial types and their arrangement relative to the positions of subject and object.

Since in German the predicate is at the end of a sentence (apart from the special effect of the verb second position ), it follows that an adverbial is the further away from this predicate position the further it is in front of the sentence. The word order rules explained above result in the following sequence for German:

  • Sentence adverbial (evaluative) <sentence / modal adverbial (subject-oriented) <place / time adverbial <manner and manner <predicate

This sequence mainly means that e.g. B. sentence adverbials must be further away from the predicate than place or manner adverbials. These general rules about distance from the predicate apply in principle to languages ​​with different word order rules. Languages ​​with the basic sequence subject-verb-object usually allow adverbials to be added at the beginning or end of a sentence, but the effect is retained that sentence adverbials are further away from the verb and event adverbials are closer to the verb.

Sequence: SVO + adverbial

In SVO languages, many adverbials can be positioned at the end of a sentence. There is usually a pattern according to which the order is a mirror image of that which prevails in German before the verb. Haider (2000) gives the following example for the German-English comparison with the supplementary or adverbial types 1 = prepositional object , 2 = kind-and-manner adverbial, 3 = place adverbial, 4 & 5 = time adverbial:


She has worked 1on her hobby 2with great care 3in the garden 4the whole time 5today.


Sie hat 5heute 4die ganze Zeit 3im Garten 2mit großer Sorgfalt 1an ihrer Lieblingsbeschäftigung gearbeitet.

The same contrast can be seen when comparing German with the SVO language Spanish:

Carlos estuvo viviendo 1en Madrid 2en 1978.
Carlos hat 21978 1in Madrid gelebt.

The explanation for the mirror-image ranking is that positions after the verb (in SVO languages) are closer to the verb the further to the left they are. So while grammar dictates different orders, the hierarchy of adverbials usually stays the same across different language types.

Sequence: adverbial + SVO

In the case of adverbials at the beginning of a sentence, the same order is expected as listed above for German, since here, too, adverbials that are further in front are further out. According to Haider (2000), however, there is variation, since adverbials can also be topicalized , i.e. the initial position of an adverbial can be motivated solely by the fact that the corresponding information is already expected from the context. Therefore, unlike usual, in SVO languages ​​in such cases places are often given before time:

Englisch: In America, after the election, trade began to improve.
Spanisch: En Barcelona en aquellos años difíciles de guerra no se podía …


  • Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2009.
  • Werner Frey: Syntactic Conditions on Adjunct Classes. In: Ewald Lang, Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen, Claudia Maienborn (eds.): Modifying Adjuncts. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, pp. 163-209.
  • Peter Gallmann, Horst Sitta: Sentences in the scientific discussion and in result grammars. In: Journal for German Linguistics. 20-2, 1992, pp. 137-181.
  • Hubert Haider: The Syntax of German (= Cambridge Syntax Guides ). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK) 2010.
  • Karin Pittner: Adverbials in German (= studies on German grammar. 60). Stauffenburg Verlag, Tübingen 1999.
  • Karin Pittner, Judith Berman: German Syntax. A work book. 4th edition. Narr Verlag, Tübingen, 2010.

Web links

Wiktionary: adverbial definition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. 2009, p. 796; Pittner (1999), p. 46.
  2. Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. 2009, p. 782 ff.
  3. Pittner (1999), p. 48, from which the above example also comes.
  4. See the analogous example on p. 64 in: Christian Hinz; Klaus-Michael Köpcke: prepositional object and prepositional adverbial. On the use of prototype theory for grammar lessons. Pp. 60-83 .
  5. See Pittner & Berman (2010), p. 37 f.
  6. ^ Gallmann & Sitta (1992), p. 24 f .; Pittner (1999), p. 49.
  7. See e.g. B. Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 1048 (section 1690); Pittner & Berman (2010), p. 47, from where the following examples are taken.
  8. Duden - Die Grammatik (2009), p. 782: They change semantic and grammatical properties of the predicate, e.g. B. possibly the choice of the auxiliary verb ( sein instead of haben ). See also Pittner (1999), pp. 68-74.
  9. Even in the textbook by Pittner / Berman 2010, p. 38.
  10. See the detailed descriptions in the Duden grammar or in Pittner 1999.
  11. This is the z. B. used in the Duden grammar (2009) term.
  12. U. a. Term used by Pittner (1999) and Frey (2003).
  13. See the article event semantics .
  14. For this z. E.g .: Pittner (1999), pp. 68-74; Duden - The grammar. (2009), p. 781 f.
  15. Pittner & Berman (2010), p. 91 quote Altmann & Hahnemann 2007 for this view in the context of the field model. See also Haider (2010), pp. 191–192 for a grammatical contrast between adverbial PPs and directional PPs.
  16. For example, the Duden grammar (2009), S. 782nd
  17. The classification given here mainly follows Pittner (1999).
  18. ^ Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey Pullum: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2002. pp. 676f.
  19. To: Duden - The grammar. (2009), p. 783.
  20. Pittner (1999, Chapter 5) points out that this type of meaning often has no independent marking, but that causal clauses, final clauses etc. are each possible in a use with reference to speech acts.
  21. See e.g. B. Gisa Rauh: adverb or preposition? On the need to delimit parts of speech and grammatical categories and the danger of a terminological trap. In: Eckhard Eggers u. a. (Ed.): Florilegium Linguisticum. Festschrift for Wolfgang Schmid on his 70th birthday. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 367-392.
  22. Example from Dudengrammatik (2009), p. 563 (section 829). The distinction to a predicative is notoriously difficult.
  23. Haider (2010), p. 263.
  24. Examples from: Richard Larson: Bare NP Adverbs. In: Linguistic Inquiry. 4, 1985, pp. 595-621. Larson's analysis consists in using an invisible preposition in English that assigns a case to the noun phrase. Haider (2010, p. 263 f.) Argues that this idea cannot be transferred to German.
  25. WALS Online - Chapter Number of Cases.
  26. Frey (2003), Frey & Pittner (1998), see also the article Scrambling (Linguistics) and Deutsche Grammatik # Syntax des Mittelfelds .
  27. The following presentation is based on the work of Frey (2003) (a revised version of the theory by Frey & Pittner 1998).
  28. Examples from Frey (2003), p. 186, with additional variants.
  29. See Frey p. 191 for an analogous case.
  30. Frey p. 187 f.
  31. Frey, p. 163 f .; Haider (2010), p. 145.
  32. Example a. from Frey p. 182.
  33. Haider (2010), p. 144, example (4e), under the keyword “focus fronting”.
  34. Frey (2003), p. 169, Ex. (16), classified as a frame-setting adverbial.
  35. For the English see z. B. the grammar by Randolph Quirk & Sidney Greenbaum & Geoffrey Leech & Jan Svartvik: A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, London 1985 (4th edition). For Spanish: Martin Hummel : Adverbals and adverbial adjectives in Spanish. Tübingen Contributions to Linguistics Volume 446, Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-8233-5112-5 .; Holger Siever: Translate Spanish into German. A work book. Narr study books, Gunter Narr, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-8233-6391-0 , p. 105.
  36. Haider (2000), Ex. (2) and (3).
  37. Hubert Haider: Adverb placement: Convergence of structure and licensing. In: Theoretical Linguistics. 26 (2000), pp. 95-134. To the order in SVO languages ​​v. a. Section 2.
  38. Haider (2000), Ex. (4).
  39. sentence structure, word order, sentence structure. El orden de las palabras en la oración. Colocation de los elementos oracionales. Justo Fernández López. ( Memento from June 16, 2015 in the Internet Archive )