Classics German Matters Literature

What’s all this about adverbial clauses then? Yawn!-Boring?

Someone said that education when is what is left over when you have forgotten most of what you were actually taught.

A Grammar School was supposed to have versed its pupils in the diligent study and understanding of basic linguistic structures. Much of this revolved around the central importance of Latin. I can well remember my English teacher, affectionately known as Ernie T-there must have been another Ernie on the staff- spending hours of lessons explaining parsing. This was essentially taking an extended sentence with clauses, phrases and sub-clauses and analysing it into its component parts. Indeed he might extract an ugly sentence from a boy’s homework and subject it, on the board to such treatment. Excruciating as this could be for the person concerned, we did perhaps learn something from the process! I recall how he once took the sentence and translated it into Latin, which he also taught, in order to simplify the meaning before breaking it down into the constituent parts of speech. Now, years later, this all begins to make some sort of sense.

Alma Mater Studorium
Alma Mater Studorium

There are three examples where Latin has been quite useful to my understanding of grammar; both in English and when learning German. (1) Adverbial clauses in English should be ordered in manner and then place then time. Adverbial phrases etc are explained at Hence:-

  • I will sit quietly.

(normal adverb)

  • I will sitin silence.

(adverbial phrase)

  • St Francis Meditating
    St Francis Meditating

    I will sit like a monk meditates.

(adverbial clause)
(When the multi-word adverb contains a subject and a verb (like in this example), it is an adverbial clause as opposed to an adverbial phrase.)

Not only this but also if there are several adverbial clauses, then in English, the order ought to become:-

I waited impatiently (MANNER) at the bus stop PLACE) for an hour (TIME).

Or in other words, How? Then Where? And finally When?

Now I am unsure of how important this is,although I once was taught it,  as the order may be altered for the purpose of emphasis and it seems just to be common practice. (You can, however, read more about it all at and adverbial clauses in general at

Where it does really matter is in GERMAN e.g or rather-

Zum Beispiel: “Heute kommt Erik mit der Bahn nach Hause.”


Time comes first HEUTE

Manner second MIT DER BAHN

Place last NACH HAUSE

This is really well explained at

(2)Impersonal verbs in Latin and the use of the third person singular ” Mann muss…..” So consider tking a look at an interesting, and to me engaging, Latin sentence-

mihi placet libros legere vinumque bibere

mihi is the dative “To me” and placet is “it pleases” and is one of the commonest Latin impersonal verbs and there is more on, libros are books and legere= to read, vinumque means “and wine” and pretty obviously,” bibere” means to drink, so a rough translation is-

“To me it is pleasing to read books and drink wine” or much better, “I like reading books and drinking wine!” and this is rather similar to Deutschsprache-

Man muss Bücher lesen und trinken Wein. -or more probably Wein trinken!

Wine and books

The combination of impersonal verbs with the dative in German is well explained at


“Impersonal verbs
Another type of construction, in which what would be the subject of an English sentence, is in the dative case in a German sentence includes the so-called impersonal verbs. These are verbs in which the grammatical subject of the sentence is “es”, a non-specific “it”. We have met two of the most common impersonal verbs already:

  • Es tut mir Leid.
    (“I‘m sorry.”)
  • Wie geht es Ihnen?
    (“How are you?”)
  • Mir geht es gut.
    (“I‘m very well.”)”Chaucer

So I have not got as far as participles nor yet discussing gerunds. Both are subjects worthy of another posting. I am sure Ernie T would have agreed! I recall now that there was an Ernie G and that he taught Maths amongst other subjects. Among other sayings Mr T would say, “A gentleman is a man who knows how to treat both his books and his mistresses.” This was delivered to a somewhat confused 14 year old, whose poetry book had not been very well looked after having been issued many, many times and considered the responsibility of it’s owner. We worked together on “The Pardoner’s Tale” by Chaucer, “Julius Caesar” and we touched on another Shakespeare play for comparison. The other text was Rudyard Kipling’s Kim-probably more interesting than “My Early Life” by Churchill, which was studied by the top set. Ernie T was a great teacher of literature but not generous with essay marks. In the third year, I foolishly wrote a 30 page screed the first two pages of which was covered in red corrections and I was given 2/10! His pupils still exchange stories of his enthusiasm. “If you make such a grammatical error, boy, it displays your cretinous understanding of the language! If Shakespeare does it, it is a stroke of genius!”

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