Sidney Greenbaum and Randolph Quirk (1990) argues that:
Adverbial clauses function mainly as adjuncts or disjunct.
In those functions, they are like adverbial phrases but in
Their potentiality for greater explicitness, they are more
Often like prepositional phrases.
This paper attempts to give an account of adverbial clauses in Tumbuka language. It will adopt a comparative approach to English language and translate certain aspects where necessary. However, special areas of concern like those which may need to be differentiated from the focus of this paper will be shown in italics in the introductory part normally in the English language. On the other hand, those in Bold in both English and Tumbuka languages are the main concerns of this essay. Definitions of key terms will be given with respect to the question. The paper will firstly describe the most common types of adverbial clauses found in the English language and later try to spot if such cases are found in Tumbuka language. Nevertheless, unmarked cases will be commented on in both English and Tumbuka to show the differences. Above all, translated sentences from Tumbuka to English language will be put in ‘glosses’ and finally the conclusion will be given.


By traditional definition, an adverb is a word or a group of words which gives more information about a verb. This imply that it may be a single word such as slowly, here, today or a phrase such as the day before yesterday, or to call a girlfriend. However, adverbs can also be clauses, containing a subject and a full verb. Adverb clauses are sometimes called adverbial Clauses which refer to a word or a group of words which functions as adverb. Take for instance in the following sentences.

(d) I saw his car yesterday.

(e) She danced at the party on Monday.

(f) I saw his car before I left for Chama District.

In sentence (a), “Yesterday” is a one-word adverb. In sentence (b), “on Friday” is an adverb phrase. And finally in the third sentence (c) “before I left for Chama District” is an adverb clause or an adverbial clause. The three sentences (a), (b) and (c) above are answering the question ‘when?’ The adverbial clause in (c) has the subject ‘I’ and a full verb ‘left’. It is introduced by “before”, therefore, it is a dependent clause. This means that “before I left for Chama District” cannot stand alone without the main verb. It needs the main clause “I saw his car”. An adverbial clause, then, is a dependent clause that does the same job as an adverb or an adverb phrase. Alternatively, an adverbial clause is a clause that has an adverb-like function in modifying another clause.


There are many types of adverbial Clauses and here are some examples of the most common types reflected on the table and it is important to note that these are based on English language. In addition, the type of questions which such adverbial clauses answer and how they are appropriately used will also be given.

Place Where? Wherever you go, there is MTN.
Time When? After the war, Many people died.
Cause Why? (What caused this?) I didn’t call her because I’m shy
Purpose Why? (what was the reason for doing this?) Ben went to school so that he can have more knowledge.
Concession Why is this unexpected? Although Kelvin has a master’s degree, he works as a clerk
Condition Under what conditions? If you save your money, you will be able to go to college

From the table above in the example column, it is observed that most adverbial clauses are recognised because they are introduced by a particular word or phrase such as after, when, so that and if. These words and phrases are called subordinating conjunctions and there are so many of them of different types belonging to different types of adverbials. However, it is important to note that some adverbial clauses are not introduced by a subordinating conjunction. For instance, “John went to Zambia so that he can get a free piece of land.”


Like English language, there are many different types of adverbial clauses in Tumbuka language and some of these are:

2.1. Adverbial Clauses of purpose
The adverbial clauses of purpose indicate the purpose of an action. Usually answers the question ‘why’?

Example (1)

(c) Suzgo wakasambilila vya macompyuta, mwakuti wasangeko nchito yiwemi.
Suzgo took a computer course so that he could get a better a job’.

(d) Jenala wakubelenga chomene mwakuti wakakwele vilingwa.
‘Jenala studies hard in order to pass the examination’
From Example one, It is observed that the two adverbial clauses are not introduced by a subordinating conjunction but instead, they follow the main clause. “Mwakuti” ‘so that’ in (a) and “mwakuti” ‘in order to’ in (b) are subordinating conjunctions. Yet, it is vital to observe that semantically and syntactically, the use of “mwakuti” as subordinating conjunction in Tumbuka language as shown in example one above varies depending on the context being used which is a different case in English.

2.1 Conditional Adverbial Clause.
This is very common in Tumbuka language and it is used to talk about a possible situation and its consequences.

Example (1)

(e) para maliya adize lelo namise, nimulekeskenge nchito.
‘If Mary does not come this afternoon, she will loose her job’.

(f) Nipaka wuchinje, wamukunjila yayi mu ufumu wakuchanya. ‘unless you change, you will not enter the kingdom of God’

(g) para walimbikila, wuzamugula motoka.
‘If you work hard, you will buy a vihecle.

(h) Para waluta, nizamukujikoma.
‘If you go, I will kill myself’

However, Tumbuka speakers sometimes value the position of subordinating conjunctions because they affect the semantic meaning of the sentence. The three sentences above start with a subordinating conjunction (nipaka and para, ‘unless and if respectively’). In some sentences like the three above, you can start them with the main clause, ending with the dependent clauses and the meaning will still be the same. For instance in
(a) pala maliya adize lelo namise, nimulekeskenge nchito.
‘If Mary does not come this afternoon, she will loose her job’.
One can similarly start this sentence with the main clause and end with the subordinate clause in Tumbuka language. But this is a different case in English because it becomes ambiguous. There are two possible semantic interpretations. Take for instance:
(a) Nimulekeskenge nchito pala maliya adize lelo namise. (Correct)
‘She will loose her job, if Mary does not come this afternoon. (Ambiguous). The Tumbuka sentence imply that Mary herself will loose her job but the gloss English interpretation imply two things; either Mary herself will lose the Job or Someone else other than Mary will loose her job.

2.2 Adverbial Clause of cause
This answers questions like what caused this to happen and why did it happen? For instance;

Example (2)

(c) Wandakwele vilingwa chifukwa wakabazganga chomene yayi.
‘He/She failed the examination because he/she did not study hard’.

(d) Shamba walitengwa chifukwa walikula
‘Shamba got married because she is grown up’
Here Chifukwa ‘because’ is a subordinator part of the dependent clause.

2.3 Adverbial Clause of Time
This happens when a speaker want to locate the time when the event or action took place. Usually occur when something happened by referring to a period of time. In (a) below, the adverbial clause is not introduced by the subordinating conjunction but instead, it is initiated by the main clause.

Example (3)

(g) Anyina bakafwa apo iye wakaba pa sukulu.
His/her mother died when he/she was still at school.

(h) Pala wamanya ichi, wamukukwera vilingwa.
‘Once you know this, you will pass the examination’.

(i) Pala vipambi vyayabika, vyuguliskika kumuskika.
‘After fruits are harvested, they are sold at the market’.

(j) pambele mundalute, munipilethu ndalama.
‘Before you go, you should give me the money in advance’.

(k) Usange mwafika waka, munitumile lamya.
‘As soon as you arrive, you should call me’.

(l) apomuchali kwene kuko, gulani skapato.
‘Whilst there, buy shoes’.

2.4 Adverbial Clause of place
This type suggests the location or position where exactly something happened. It usually answers the question where?

Example (4)

(c) Kulikose wuko kuli macomputa , kuli namasofutiweya.
‘Wherever there are computers, there are softwares’.

(d) Uko kuli khululu, kuli na nthowa.
‘Where there is hole, there is a way’

In these two sentences, adverbial clauses are introduced by the subordinating conjunctions and not vice versa.

2.5 Adverbial clause of comment.
This tries to basically comment on the state of affairs.

Example (5)

(d) Tomasi, naumo mumanyila, nimwana wa fumu.
‘Thomas, as you know, is the child of the chief’.

(e) Pakuba mwana wa fumu, Tomasi wakatukanga waka munthu aliyose.
‘Being the child of the chief, Thomas insulted everyperson’.

(f) Nkhumanya yayi vyochita kuyowoya unenesko.
‘I’m not sure what to do, to be honest’.

2.6 Adverbial Clause of Preference
This has to do with a strong liking of something or a predisposition favor of something on the basis of choice.

Example (6)

Mumalo mopita na motoka, nizamupita na njinga
Rather than going by a vihecle, I will go by bicycle.

2.7 Adverbial Clause of Manner.
These clauses are used to talk about someone’s behaviour or the way something is done.

Example (7)

Bakanikanizga kuti nichite vithu umo nukhumbila
‚I was never allowed to do things in the way I wanted to do them’.

2.8 Concessive adverbial clause
These clauses are used to make two statements one of which contrasts with the other or makes it seem surprising.

Example (8)

Nkhabazganga Chomene nangauli sono nilije nyengo yowonela mumabuku
‘I used to read a lot although I don’t get much time for books now’.

2.9 Adverbial Clause of Result
Such type of clauses are used to indicate the results of something.

Example (9)

Chola chane chikanangika chomene pawulendu wakulusaka kuti nachikolelo chikakana no khala makola
‘My bag became damaged on the journey to Lusaka, in such a way that the handle would not fit properly’.

2.10 Adverbial Clause of Reason
The adverbial clause of reason indicates the reason as to why something happened.

Example (10)
Nkhatondeka kumukalipila chifukwa nkhumutemwa chomene.
‘I couldn’t feel anger against him because I love him too much’

From the Semantic and syntactic interpretation, this paper can be resolved in two fold; Cognitive closure and social closure.

3.1 cognitive closures.
The paper has explained the different adverbial clauses in Tumbuka language such as those of time, place, condition, purpose, result, comment, preference and concession. However, the variation in Syntax and Semantics has also been highlighted. This has been done in such a way that the focus of meaning in a sentence, ‘may’ or ‘may not’ change when the grammatical arrangement of words have changed their positions in the same sentence in Tumbuka language without necessarily changing the type of adverbial clause being handled. This imply that the position of words in Tumbuka language matters because they may affect the general meaning of the sentence.

3.2 Social closure
Languages of the world do not exist completely in isolation. They are related in one way or another. For instance, the examples and explanations given in this paper are mostly taken from English language and an actual translation has been given to justify the claim at hand. Above all, adverbial clauses are found in both English and Tumbuka language as shown in the paper. These adverbial clauses are identified by subordinating conjunctions in both languages. In addition, it was also pointed out that for us to know that there is a subordinating conjunction, they are reflected in a dependent clause which is part of the principal characteristic of an adverbial clause.


David Crystal. 1997. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. 2nd ed.
New York: Cambridge University Press.

Simpson J.A. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed.
Newyork: oxford University press

Website: http//www.wekipedia.com

About Sitwe

Sitwe Benson Mkandwire is a researcher, teacher and writer. He is currently based at the University of Zambia, School of Education, Department of Language and Social Sciences Education.
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