How, Where, Why: What Adverbial Phrases Will Tell You

Nouns refer to the many people, places, and things around us. There are many different types of nouns that we use when talking about everything we see or experience. Sometimes, we are talking about one thing. For example, you may have only one pet, one sister, one house, one last slice of pizza, or one idea for a funny knock-knock joke. One is the loneliest number, so let’s try to cheer it up by introducing the term for the type of noun we use to refer to single objects: the singular noun.

[article-nav-item jump_link="What's A Singular Noun?"]What is a singular noun?[/article-nav-item]

The word singular, when used in grammar, means “noting or pertaining to a member of the category of number found in many languages that indicates that a word form has one referent or denotes one person, place, thing, or instance.” A singular noun is a noun that refers to one, and only one, object or person. For example, the word girl is a singular noun but the word girls is not a singular noun because it refers to more than one person. Girls is a plural noun. While singular nouns are usually simple to understand, sometimes things can get tricky. A collective noun, for example, is a singular noun that refers to a group of people or things as a single unit. Words like team, family, and pile are collective nouns. Even though these words refer to multiple people or things, they are still singular nouns because they refer to a single, distinct unit. Also, some English words like to be difficult and sometimes function as singular nouns. Words like data, fish, and measles may or may not be singular nouns, so be careful! Don’t be surprised if you see some people use these words with a plural verb as in The data are showing a growth in sales or My fish swim really fast. Names and titles also like to be sneaky, so you will need to carefully use nouns like Bahamas and Star Wars. (Countries can be singular or plural depending on the sentence.) [article-callout-link href=""]Who knew nouns could be so complicated? It might help to visit this review of what a noun can be in more detail.[/article-callout-link]

[article-nav-item jump_link="Examples"]Singular noun examples[/article-nav-item]

Of all of the different types of nouns we use, singular nouns are relatively easy to use. There aren’t any special capitalization or punctuation rules you need to remember when using them. The one thing you must remember is that singular nouns use singular verbs such as is, was, or does. Simply remember that a singular noun is a noun that refers to one person, place, or thing. Let’s take a look at examples of singular nouns.

People and animals 

Singular nouns are used to refer to one person or one animal. Both generic and specific people and animals can be referred to with singular nouns.
  • People: man, woman, firefighter, waiter, hero, Batman, Queen Elsa
  • Animals: dog, cat, bird, bug, lion, tiger, bear, Mickey Mouse, Koko the Gorilla


Just as before, we use singular nouns to refer to one place.
  • beach, city, neighborhood, town, island, country, Mexico, France, China, Australia


You can use singular nouns to refer to a lot of stuff you experience with your five senses.
  • chair, computer, apple, cinnamon, trash, hat, wind, rain, Google, Twitter, Amazon


We also use singular nouns to refer to ideas, emotions, philosophies, concepts, and other intangible things you can’t detect with your five senses.
  • hunger, sadness, time, disease, government, religion, peace, science, Friday, October

List of singular nouns

Many of the other types of nouns can also be singular nouns. Let’s look at some examples of different types of nouns used as singular nouns.

Common nouns: kangaroo, clock, banana, backyard, baseball, toy Proper nouns: Abraham Lincoln, Texas, Nintendo, Buddhism Concrete nouns: desk, house, dirt, cake, monkey, lake, moon Abstract nouns: war, happiness, confusion, poverty, unemployment Countable nouns: cookie, cup, hat, hamster, cloud Uncountable nouns: doubt, sand, music, entertainment, furniture

Singular Nouns Chart

[article-nav-item jump_link="Singular Vs. Plural Nouns"]The difference between singular and plural nouns[/article-nav-item]

To recap, a singular noun refers to one person, place, or thing. The type of noun that refers to more than one person, place, or thing is known as a plural noun. Singular nouns always use singular verbs (such as is, was, and walks) while plural nouns use plural verbs (such as are, were, and walk). Only singular nouns can use the articles a and an. Plural nouns can be tricky to tell apart from singular nouns. Many plural nouns are created by simply adding the letter S to a singular noun as in the words cats, hamburgers, or ideas. However, many plural nouns do not follow this rule, so you need to keep an eye out. Always remember the rule that a singular noun is a noun that only refers to one person, place, or thing. Here are examples of the different ways that we use singular and plural nouns:
  • A lady (singular noun) bought a dress (singular noun) from the store (singular noun).
  • My brother (singular noun) collects stamps (plural noun).
  • Math (singular noun) gives me headaches (plural noun).
  • The shark (singular noun) had sharp teeth (plural noun).
  • Chris didn’t meet the required criteria (plural noun!) for being a dancer (singular noun).
  • I caught a really big fish (singular noun).
  • Octopuses (plural noun) sometimes eat many fish (plural noun).

[article-nav-item jump_link="Grammar Coach Helps!"]All the nouns, none of the errors[/article-nav-item]

Did you know that singular also means “extraordinary, remarkable”? And you too can be a singular writer with the help of’s Grammar Coach™. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar and spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing. Whether you’re writing about a person, place, or thing, perfect grammar has never been easier! [gravityform id="3" title="true" description="true"]

An adverbial phrase is a group of words that refines the meaning of a verb, adjective, or adverb. Similar to adverbs, adverbial phrases modify other words by explaining why, how, where, or when an action occurred. They may also describe the conditions of an action or object, or the degree to which an action or object was affected. Consider the following sentence: “He drove the school bus as carefully as possible.” The word drove is the verb, and the adverbial phrase as carefully as possible describes how the driver performed the action.

Adverbial phrases don’t contain a subject and a verb. When these elements are present, the group of words is considered an adverbial clause. The following sentence is an example: “When the show ends, we’re getting dinner.” Whether it’s a phrase or a clause, an adverbial construction is dependent on the main subject and verb. It can’t form a complete idea on its own. In the previous example, the show is the subject of the adverbial clause, and ends is the verb in the adverbial clause. This group of words has no meaning on its own, but it explains when the subject plans to perform the action of getting dinner.

Types of Adverbial Phrases and Clauses

The structure of an adverbial phrase or clause changes depending on the type of word it modifies and how it refines the meaning. This passage from W.B. Yeats’ poem, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,” contains two adverbial phrases: “I have spread my dreams under your feet;/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” In both instances, the phrases describe where the actions occur.

Adverbial phrases can also function as infinitive phrases by incorporating infinitive verbs when they describe why an action is occurring. An infinitive verb is made up of the word to and a root verb (such as watch or find). For example, if you were to say “I went into town to visit my friend,” the adverbial phrase to visit my friend would clarify why you went into town. This can be considered an adverbial phrase because it describes the verb went.

Another common use for adverbial phrases is to describe the frequency of an action. In the sentence “Jamie called her mother almost every day,” the adverbial phrase functions as an adverb of time and describes how frequently Jamie calls.

Adverbial phrases may also overlap with prepositional phrases, as the latter usually consist of a preposition, a noun or pronoun, and modifiers that describe where or when the action is occurring. Jane Austen provides a useful example of a prepositional phrase in this line from Persuasion: “Many a noble fortune has been made during the war.” The word during is a preposition, and the war is a noun phrase. Together, they function as an adverbial phrase to offer greater detail about the specific time period.

As Langston Hughes demonstrates in the poem “Youth,” adverbial phrases and clauses are limited only by imagination. The stanza “We have tomorrow/Bright before us/Like a flame” contains two back-to-back adverbial phrases, showing how figurative language gives writers the flexibility to modify words in creative ways. Adverbial phrases have diverse constructions, but they always modify the meaning of a verb, adjective or adverb by answering questions such as How, Where and Why?

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