Grammar: Verbs, Adverbs, Adverbial Phrases, Fronted Adverbials & Commas

I can describe action. I can identify an adverbial phrase. I know what fronted adverbial means; I can use a comma after a fronted adverbial. 

(Skip to about 2:10 in the video below if you already know about verbs and adverbs.)

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Homework Worksheet:

Adverbial Phrases
Click on the worksheet to open as a .pdf

This video explains:

  • that verbs are doing words;
  • that adverbs describe verbs;
  • that adverbial phrases are short phrases that act as adverbs;
  • that fronted adverbials are adverbs at the start of a sentence;
  • that commas are needed after fronted adverbials.


  1. But would you really use a comma after a fronted adverbial in a command such as “carefully heat the water”? I wouldn’t. What about “If the fire alarm is heard, quickly leave the classroom”?

    OK, in real life I would probably simply move the position of the adverb to overcome the awkward phrasing (“heat the water carefully”) but I’d be interested to know other people’s thoughts on whether there should ALWAYS be a comma after a fronted adverbial.

    1. Hi Jane. Thanks for your comment!

      This is a brilliant point and I’m glad you’ve brought it up. Like you, I tend to find that single-word fronted adverbials don’t often have a comma, though a comma is still allowed. It’s one of those examples that illustrates how subjective punctuation really is in actual practice.

      That said, even when the comma is not necessary, I think it is useful to think about where a comma would be appropriate. In other words, punctuation rules like this one show us where we may (and may not) put a comma, not necessarily where we must put one. For example, you’d certainly never write “Carefully heat, the water.” or “Carefully heat the, water.” but “Carefully, heat the water.” does make sense. We then need to ask ourselves why this latter version does make sense when the others don’t. The fronted adverbial ‘rule’ gives us a reason and I think this is helpful. It also reflects the appropriate way to speak the sentence, something I find very helpful with newcomers to English.

      Thanks again for your comment! Keep the discussion going :)


  2. I do so agree with you about punctuation being subjective in practice! But I think you are right that the comma here is both correct and useful in the vast majority of cases, with just a few “exceptions that prove the rule”.

    Have to say this is a brilliant website – really helpful!

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