I am having some trouble understanding why relative adverbs function as adverbs in a relative clause.

My family worships in a church, where my parents married.

In the above example, I understand "where my parents married functions as an adjective clause, but cannot comprehend how where modifies the verb married.

  • Could you be more specific about why you don't understand this? It modifies married as an adverb, there isn't really a "why" about it. Where functions just like there; both refer back to a church and modify the verb of the second clause, but there is demonstrative and part of a main clause, whereas where introduces a subordinate clause. Just like when/then and after which / afterwards (in a way). There are relative pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 11:31

3 Answers 3


A relative form is a pointer to some other constituent in a sentence. When a relative is employed, as here, in a bound relative clause, it points in two directions, toward an explicit constituent in the head clause and toward a missing constituent in the subordinate relative clause, and signifies that they are the same entity.

  This is [the dragon] which George killed [_].  
              ↑        ↵↳                  ↑

In other words, "This is the dragon. George killed the dragon. The two dragons are the same dragon."

Where is a 'pro-locative': it points to a locative expression in the same way that who, a pro-noun, points to a noun phrase. Since most locative expressions are preposition phrases (PP), where may usually be understood as a 'pro-PP', equivalent to PREP which. As a relative it points to an explicit placename in the head clause and to a missing preposition phrase in the relative clause. The only tricky part is figuring out which preposition is intended.

 My family worships in [a church] where my parents married [_].
                          ↑        ↵↳                      ↑

In other words, "My family worships in a church. My parents married in a church. The two churches are the same church."

  • Isn't where the pro-prep for there /relative version of here/there? :) Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 16:20
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    @F.E. Could you give an undelete vote to the bottom answer in this question here by any chance? Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 0:13
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    @Araucaria Sorry I missed you guys - I never got pinged on this conversation after my last post. {grump - 'sorry' specifically because you're my two favorite heretics and you make me think} 1.I agree that where has very limited range as far as positional reference goes; but it can get around this to some extent by taking a full locative rather than only a nominal as its antecedent. 2.I don't think restrictive/nonrestrictive makes any difference to how it works. But then I don't think there's any difference between fused relative clauses and embedded questions, either. .. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:50
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    ... which is one of my main heresies. 3) While I'm at it, I might mention that when works pretty much the same way, and I classify that as prolocative, too. Every time I stop and think about what I've taken to calling locatives the subject gets weirder and weirder and makes my brain hurt. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:01
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    @F.E. See previous two posts. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 2:07

"Where, when, why" can be used in relative clauses as in "the church where my parents married". In this use they are often called relative adverbs, but the Longman English Grammar uses no name at all. The term adverb is perhaps not optimal. Here it does not mean that "where/when/why" modify a verb as an adverb of manner. The primary function is to connect the relative clause to the noun before. Perhaps we should or you should invent another term, if you have problems with adverb. You might say "relative connector", to make the function of the three words clearer. We have to live with the fact that not every traditional grammar term is optimal.

"The church where my parents married" is the same as "the church in which my parents married".

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    They're called adverbs because they mean time, place, and purpose, and so do many adverbs. Not a very good reason, and not a very good term. And note that they're not all the same -- why can't be used to introduce a relative clause unless it modifies the word reason, but where can be used with any place reference, and when with any time reference -- or with any point in a story being told in linear installments. What they are is relative pronouns, and a frequent use is to introduce headless relative clauses (or embedded question complements -- same thing): where = the place where. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 14:50

Adjectival clauses are sometimes introduced by what are called the relative adverbs: where, when and why. Although the entire clause is adjectival and will modify a noun, the relative word itself fulfils an adverbial function (modifying a verb within its own clause).

The relative adverb where will begin a clause that modifies a noun of place:

My family worships in a church where my parents married.

The relative pronoun "where" modifies the verb "married" (which makes it adverbial), but the entire clause ("where my parents married") modifies the word "church."

This was the most convincing explanation I could find. After reading a couple of articles on this topic, I think that relative adverbs modify the verb in the clause they introduce because that is the way they work(just like adjectives modify nouns or adverbs modify adjectives, verbs and other adverbs)

Source: Relative adverbs

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