How to Use Adverbs to Express Time [English Business Writing]


As businesses become more international, so must our business writing. Fortunately, good business writing skills transfer very well to global audiences, but there is some confusing grammar that global business writers need to watch.


Let’s examine the advantage of using adverbs, instead of grammar, to express time.

There are certain grammatical structures that show when two actions happen in relationship to each other. However, these structures are complicated and can be difficult for non-native speakers of English to understand. For example:

Before I reported my findings to the team, I had attended the conference.

This sentence is grammatically correct, but it is long and uses two different past tenses to show which action happened first. Instead, you can write this:

First, I went to the conference. Then, I reported my findings to my team.

The first example sounds more sophisticated, but the second example is easier to understand. This is because the second example uses short, direct sentences, the simple past tense, and the “First” and “Then” to show the relationship between the two events. The second example does not rely on complicated grammar to show the relationship between those two sentences.

A quick review of adverbs

There are two ways to understand adverbs – their grammatical job in the sentence and what questions they answer for you.

 Grammatically, adverbs have three jobs:

  1. They can describe a verb: He speaks eloquently.
  2. They can describe another adverb: He speaks very
  3. And, they can describe an adjective: He is quite

Sometimes, though, it is easier to think about the questions that adverbs answer for us:

  1. How – He speaks eloquently. (Eloquently tells us how he speaks.)
  2. How much – We have staff meetings weekly. (Weekly tells us how much we have staff meetings.)
  3. When – First, we need to review the proposals. (First tells us when the action needs to occur.)

 It’s the last question, WHEN, that makes adverbs particularly useful in business writing. Using adverbs, instead of grammar, to describe time is easier to understand, and will usually force you to use shorter, more direct sentences that are often more explicit. Examples of adverbs of time are:

  • First, second, third
  • First, next, last
  • In the beginning, In the end/At the end
  • Now, Then
  • Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday

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Let’s look at one more example of how these adverbs of time work. Here is the complicated sentence:

As a result of the challenging business climate, we will need to cut back on frivolous spending.


The business climate is challenging. Now, we need to cut back on frivolous spending.

The second example uses two shorter sentences that are more direct. It also uses the adverb of time “Now” to help orient the reader, instead of the complicated grammar of the first example. 

As you can see, writing for a global audience is not so different from good business writing. Short, clear, direct sentences help your reader to respond in a timely manner. Instructional Solutions offers Online Business Writing Courses that can help you write better work, to both domestic and global audiences.

Katie Almeida Spencer

About the author

Katie Almeida Spencer

Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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