Teaching Kids About the Fronted Adverbial

What is a fronted adverbial?

Let’s answer ‘what is a fronted adverbial?’ by breaking down the grammar behind it.

A fronted adverbial is a word (or a phrase for adverbial phrases) used for the same reason as adverbs to modify a specific verb or clause. They are so similar that many adverbs can be used as fronted adverbials. Many other word types and clauses can also be used as a fronted adverbial. For example:

  • prepositional phrases
  • subordinate clauses

Fronted adverbials can help young learners create vital pieces of descriptive writing. They can set the scene at the start of a chapter or paragraph. They’re also crucial for describing where, when, and how the action occurred.

So, what is a fronted adverbial? They are the words or phrases found at the start of a sentence that is used to describe the action that follows.

What are Fronted Adverbials used for:

Fronted adverbials are most commonly used to describe specific characteristics or actions. Here are a few sentences where you can see them in action:

  • The time something happens – Darius crept into the beast’s cave before sunrise.
  • The frequency that something happens – Darius could hear the beast’s ferocious snore every so often.
  • The place something happens – The terrifying creature began to stir at the back of the cave.
  • The manner something happens – As quick as a flash, Darius bounded behind a nearby rock.
  • The possibility (how likely) something will happen – Almost certainly, the deadly beast was nearing closer.

List of Fronted Adverbials:

Fronted Adverbial: How to use it in a sentence:
Afterward Afterward, we all had ice cream.
Tomorrow Tomorrow, I think I’ll take the dog for a walk.
Once Once, it snowed so much that we couldn’t go to school.
Sometimes Sometimes, I like to have a bath instead of a shower.
Upstairs Upstairs, there was an enormous bedroom.
Sadly Sadly, I couldn’t find my umbrella this morning.
Perhaps Perhaps, the rain would stop soon.
As fast as she could As fast as she could, Winnie dashed across the muddy field.
Quite understandably Quite understandably, Lila wasn’t very impressed.
In the distance In the distance, Jess called out as loud as she could.
Back at the house Back at the house, Oscar was sleeping soundly.
Without warning Without warning, Maha started singing and dancing.
In the blink of an eye In the blink of an eye, everything was back to normal again.

When to use Fronted Adverbials in your writing:

Adding description

Fronted Adverbials are brilliant when you want to make your writing more descriptive and precise. They are best used when the specific place, time, or manner in which an action took place might be of interest or importance to the reader.

Creative writing can give clues about a character’s feelings or personality. Look at how the addition of a fronted adverbial changes our perception of the main clause ‘the teacher looked at Clare’s homework:

  • Joyfully, the teacher looked at Clare’s homework.
  • With a look of disdain, the teacher looked at Clare’s homework.

In this example, the fronted adverbial (highlighted in bold) completely changes the reader’s perception and understanding of both the subject (the teacher) and the object (Clare’s homework) of the sentence; this shows how they can be used to add detail and intrigue to a piece of writing quickly.

Improving the flow and tone of your writing

Sometimes using too many short, simple sentences can make a piece of writing feel awkward or clunky. Similarly, sentences with too many connectives like ‘and’ or ‘but’ can make a sentence seem too wordy. Here’s an example:

Jim and his dog went to the park. They played fetch. Jim laughed out loud and threw the ball as far as he could.

Luckily, you can use fronted adverbials to make sentences flow together more fluidly while keeping your sentences short and easy to follow. For example, take a look at what the above sentences could look like if they used them too:

At the park, Jim and his dog played fetch. Then, laughing out loud, Jim threw the ball as far as he could.

Notice how the sentences seem to flow more naturally?; this is because fronted adverbials do a better job mimicking how we speak. You probably use plenty of them in your speech without even realizing it!

Building tension and suspense in your writing

Suspense and horror writers often love fronted adverbials because they build suspense by putting the verb toward the end of a sentence, making the reader wait to find out the action being described. They can also add atmospheric and spooky details to a sentence. Here are a few sentences where you can see them in action.

  • As the wind howled outside, the door slammed shut behind them.
  • Without a sound, Nadine started her descent into the dark cellar.
  • Mysteriously, the painting that had been on the wall yesterday was now gone.

If you’re teaching a primary school class how to use this technique in their writing, you could prompt your students to use them to write a short horror or suspense story. It is fun to get them engaged and excited about the topic while also getting them to think about how different fiction genres use different writing styles.

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