On the Wikipedia page for Adverbials, it says [emphasis mine]

In grammar an adverbial is a word (an adverb) or a group of words (an adverbial phrase or an adverbial clause) that modifies or tells us something about the sentence or the verb.

Further down the page it says that “in the water” is an adverbial complement in:

John put the flowers in the water

But in the sentence above, “in the water” is not a modifier of the verb put. It is a complement and a prepositional phrase because it begins with the preposition in. Why is it called an adverbial? If we remove the complement we are left with:

*John put the flowers.

This sentence is clearly incomplete. If we use an adverb instead of in the water we have:

John put the flowers here.

The sentence makes sense, here is an adverb, and it tells the listener “where” the flowers are put. According to Wikipedia an adverbial is either an adverb or a group of words, so is here also an adverbial? Considering its position within the sentence, does here also function as a complement? If I add further information is it an adverbial phrase, or something else?

John put the flowers here in this vase.

The subject of the clause is John, the verb is put (past simple), the flowers is the direct object, and “here in this vase” is: What?


  1. Why does Wikipedia say in the water is an adverbial?
  2. Is “here” also acting as a(n) (adverbial) complement?
  3. Is in this vase the modifier of the object (the flowers) or the verb? How do I tell?
  4. What effect does the adverb, here, have on the sentence?
  5. Is here in this vase an adverbial phrase, or an adverbial complement. Is it called something else?

This post was adapted and inspired by an edit (now deleted) in the question: Adverbial phrase. For those who wish to see the original "edit" see the meta post here.

  • One downvote cast after one minute. Is it for lack of research? For a question that is not useful? Because it is unclear?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 18, 2015 at 11:37
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    This would probably be better at Linguistics. Aug 18, 2015 at 12:24
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    @curiousdannii No, I want this question here. I'm not a member of linguistics, I'm not a linguist, I'm not a grammarian. EL&U has tons of questions that can be answered by looking up the answer in a dictionary. I don't believe this question is particularly arcane.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 18, 2015 at 12:28
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    @Mari it's rude to accuse people of downvoting, but FYI no I didn't downvote this question. And I'm not saying it's offtopic here, but that you'd get better answers at linguistics.se. These sites are all about learning. You don't need to be an expert to ask them questions, that's the whole point of asking questions! Aug 18, 2015 at 12:42
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    Some questions are like children... you just want to protect them:) Aug 18, 2015 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


(Sorry about the misery-guts examples)

This topic is not covered by the BBC analysis or Wiki, or other introductions, It is not the verb which is being qualified in these examples, but a Noun which in this case is the subject.

The fiddler on the roof wears an afghan coat.
The group behind the bike shed carry butane lighters.

... But To begin at the beginning.
There are clear cut Adverbial Phrases:

Breathlessly, painfully, hopelessly, Einstein ran for the 'bus.

There are clear cut Adjectival Phrases:

Panting, aching and despairing Groucho ran for the 'bus.

There are hybrid Adjectival Phrases in which the Verb-Noun (or Participle) is qualified by an Adverbial Phrase:

Breathing with difficulty, aching in every limb, and rapidly losing hope Casandra ran for the 'bus.

And there are indeterminate Prepositional Phrases which could be taken as qualifying the noun or the verb (leading to analytical absurdities like "Adverbs qualify verbs, adjectives, and nouns,")

Out of breath, in pain, without hope Frankenstein ran for the bus.

Some of the terms used here cross boundaries:

In a functional analysis "Adjectival," "Adverbial" are appropriate.
In syntactical analysis "Prepositional Phrase" is useful.
These shouldn't normally interfere with each other any more than a typographical description, 'In Bold,' or a rhetorical description, 'Exemplar,' would add something without confusion.

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    That's interesting! I think I almost understand it too :) Thank you so much. I will cast my votes later, I think I need to see what others have to say.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 18, 2015 at 12:55
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    The superset of adjectival and adverbial is a modifier. Aug 18, 2015 at 13:35
  • @curiousdannii. Thanks: that is progress. Is there discussion of ambivalent modifiers?
    – Hugh
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:51

I found this discussion helpful.

  1. Why does Wikipedia say in the water is an adverbial? Because the function of the prepositional phrase serves to tell us one of the traditional adverbial things about the verb. Which things are generally time, place, or manner. The cite (and site) above gives a baker's dozen of expanded categories of adverbial action. Note that the same terminal phrase can be adjectival in a different sentence:

John bought the flowers in the vase.

"In the vase" tells us which flowers.

  1. Is “here” also acting as a(n) (adverbial) complement? An adverbial complement completes the sense of the verb and appears in two forms -- in reference to the subject:

The flowers are in the vase.

or in reference to the direct object:

John put the flowers in the vase.

Deleting the complement leaves defective sentences "The flowers are" and "John put."

With "here in the vase" you may say that you've got a double complement, with "in the vase" in apposition to "here." The deletion rule doesn't work: you may delete either the belt or the suspenders and still have a workable sentence. But together, I think they still may form a complement.

  1. Is in this vase the modifier of the object (the flowers) or the verb? How do I tell? If the phrase is a complement (i.e., the verb is incomplete without the phrase), then you know it modifies the verb. Otherwise, you have to look at the meaning.

  2. What effect does the adverb, here, have on the sentence? It depends on whether you bind "here" to "in the vase." If you do, then it's an adverbial complement. If you don't, then "here" is free to wander as a simple adverb:

Here, John put the flowers in the vase.

Perhaps narrating a scene from a movie.

John here put the flowers in the vase.

It's this John sitting next to me who brought the bouquet. Or even

John put the {flowers here} in the vase.

These flowers right here, vocal emphasis on the word here.

  1. Is here in this vase an adverbial phrase, or an adverbial complement. Is it called something else? See above.
  • Thank you, that's a really clear explanation. But I'll wait a bit before voting. Thanks again!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 18, 2015 at 16:11
  • @Mari-LouA Intriguing questions on an interesting topic. I'd give it at least the rest of the day for other other contributions.
    – deadrat
    Aug 18, 2015 at 17:44
  • In 'John bought the flowers in the vase', 'in the vase' may be an adverbial of manner. Compare 'He bought all the plates at the lower price'; contrast 'John bought the flowers, but left the vase' Aug 29, 2015 at 11:33

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