Skip to content
Home » Adverbs in English » Relative adverbs

Relative adverbs

What are the relative adverbs in English? They are; when, where and why. We use relative adverbs as ‘’joiners’’ or ‘’connectors’’ to connect phrases together. Furthermore, every relative adverb has its own purpose or role, for example,

  • When: refers to time.
  • Where: refers to a place or destination.
  • Why: refers to the reason as to WHY something has happened.

We use the relative adverb ‘when‘ as an adverb to reference “time”

  • It wasn’t long ago when I used to go to the city centre.
  • It was two minutes ago I when I had been approached by the attendant.
  • I remember the time when I was younger and played football.

The relative adverb ‘where‘ is used as an adverb in reference to “place”

  • I told the tourist where he needed to go to see the monument.
  • The islands where we met up with our friends were beautiful.
  • Jamie found a place where he could finally relax.

We use the relative adverb ‘why‘ as an adverb to reference “reason” 

  • We were told why they all had to leave so early last night.
  • I know exactly why Oliver has been acting so strangely.
  • Her constant excuses are the reason why she never managed to finish the project.
English courses

Relative adverbs with context and analysis

  • Which university did you go to, Lisa?
  • Well, it was a long time ago when1 I was at university.
  • Come on, let’s hear it.
  • OK, well, I was lucky I had the opportunity to go to an Ivy league university called Brown University2 where3 I studied mathematics.
  • Mathematics? I didn’t know you studied math.
  • Yes, ah, well, I don’t know exactly why4 I chose math. I guess when5 I was younger I always liked the subject, and just decided it was the sciences6 where I longed7 to go.
  • Mathematics is not an easy subject, so It should have been hard to finish the degree, shouldn’t it8?
  • Yes, it took me five years to complete the degree, although, if you have9 a genuine interest when you’re young it’s not hard to be good at your subject.
  • Still, though, mathematics is not known to be easy.


  1. When: relative adverb that refers to time. In this particular case, the relative adverb, when is referring to the time when Lisa was at university.
  2. Brown University: Both Brown and University are capitalised because they form part of the proper noun, Brown University. When university is alone, it isn’t capitalised.
  3. Where: relative adverb that refers to place or destination. In this case, the place being, Brown University.
  4. Why: relative adverb that refers to reason (the reason as to WHY something happened). The phrase being, ‘’I don’t know exactly’’.
  5. When: relative adverb that refers to time. In this case the time being, ‘’when I was younger’’.
  6. The sciences: in general, there’s two main categories of study at university; the sciences, and the humanities.
  7. To long (verb): means to ‘’have a strong desire or craving for something or someone’’. 
  8. It should – shouldn’t it?: example of a question tag. Remember, positive to negative and vice versa.
  9. Have a genuine interest: remember, the auxiliary verb to have is used to show possession. In this case, an interest is what is being possessed.

See also