Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

From comments to “Weekdays” used as an adverb", I learn that The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says "open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.", shows the word weekdays is an adverb.

It seems to me that in "We open weekdays at 7 a.m.", and "We open tomorrow at 7 a.m." both weekdays and tomorrow are the same "part of speech" - and again in "I'll go tomorrow".

I will happily describe words like happily and quickly as adverbs - for example...

"I'll go quickly", and by extension "I'll go quickly and quietly".

On the other hand...

"I'll go tomorrow" can't be extended to "I'll go tomorrow and quietly".

Am I being thick, or is OALD spouting nonsense?

share|improve this question
8  
Aren’t adverbs all the leftovers in POS assignments when they couldn’t figure out what else to call the remainders? :) BTW, I don’t see what’s wrong with “I’ll go tomorrow — and quietly,” apart from the manifest lack of parallelism. That is, the grammar is ok but the style is a little offputting, which may be an intended effect I suppose. When you use and you are expecting them all of the same class, like “quickly, calmly, and quietly” rather than like “quickly, calmly, and often”. The former just feels better stylistically, but the latter is not wrong. But s/often/weekdays/ and hmm . . . –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 13:46
2  
Isn't this either Gen Ref, or since you disagree with one particular Ref, it is Not Constructive, a call to discussion. If not, then what exactly is the question? I think this is an interesting question, but I feel you'd vote to close it pretty quickly if it weren't your own. –  Mitch Jul 22 '12 at 14:19
3  
The discussion so far leads me to believe tchrist's first comment and an agreeing channeling of what I think John Lawler will say, that POS is kinda vague and adverb is the vaguest catch-all of them all. Anyway, a 'word' isn't always necessarily exactly one part of speech: Monday may 'be' a proper noun sometimes, bu act like an adverb at others. –  Mitch Jul 22 '12 at 16:35
3  
Haven't read all the answers, but I can see no reason at all why you can't say 'I'll go tomorrow and quietly.' –  Barrie England Jul 23 '12 at 6:41
2  
@FumbleFingers Not just adverbs! A word's class and a word's function in a sentence are related, but distinct. Just like written English and spoken English. A significant proportion of the questions on EL&U come from people confused because they haven't yet grasped this. –  Pitarou Oct 20 '12 at 0:47

7 Answers 7

up vote 60 down vote accepted
+500

Most anything that answers a “when” question can be roped into service as an adverb, even if it is normally considered a noun or a prepositional phrase.

Q: When are you going?

A: Immediately.
A: Soon.
A: Now.
A: In a while.
A: After I’m done eating.
A: Tomorrow.
A: Next week.
A: Friday.
A: Never.

All these answers are acting like adverbs in this context. But are they really adverbs? What about nouns like tomorrow or next Tuesday? Are those adverbs, too?

The simple answer is “Yes.”

A better answer is “Well sure, sorta.”

But the best is answer is “What’s an adverb?”

And thereon hangs a much longer tale.


The problem is, asking whether something is an adverb is a devilishly loaded question. It assumes that there is such a thing as a “real adverb”, which as it turns out isn’t a reasonable assumption at all. There are just words, and words do as they please — meaning, they do as their speakers please. (Yes, Humpty-Dumpty was right after all. :)

Sometimes they happen to do jobs we call adverbial, like answering “when” questions. So, for a short-hand, we call them adverbs there, using a classic part of speech tag known to scholars and school children alike.

Understand that part-of-speech (POS) tags are just an invention. They are sometimes a useful invention, true, but there are not really a necessary one. That’s because words in English are free to fall into whatever slot they want to, to do the needed job. That’s why we end up having so many “this as that” type tags when doing good POS assignment in natural language work on a computer.

One thing that occurs to me is that these “noun-adverbs” (meaning nouns doing an adverbial job) do not appear to admit normal adverbial inflections into the comparative and superlative degrees. Go back to the list of A: ... adverbial answers above and try to inflect them by degree. Sure, you can do something sooner, so that one inflects. But some do not. You are free to “do something tomorrow”, but you may not “do it *more tomorrow”.

Perhaps it bothers you that we have words doing one of the (many) duties of adverbs by answering temporal questions, but which refuse to be roped into another customary adverbial duty, inflections according to degree. Is that perhaps the origin of the question? If so, then the problem is really that we need more distinct parts of speech than the traditional ones.

One problem with assigning POS tags to English words is that this is something of an artificial distinction, the product of artifice alone. All that matters is how a word is used, and even then the granularity of your tag-set varies considerably. In short, it just depends how you slice it.

You will find that the POS tag-sets used by various reference works vary a bit, sometimes a good bit. Even the OED changed a little in how it assigns parts of speech to senses between v2 and v3. For example, many words once marked as a prefix or suffix in the OED2 are now held to be combining forms.

This is especially noticeable when doing syntactic analysis for natural language processing. The parser will make POS assignments to each word in the sentence analysed, and you have to know what each POS tag means.

A particularly common set of POS tags is the Penn Treebank tags. Someone who comes from the school that admits only the seven “classic” parts of speech (NOUN, PRONOUN, VERB, ADJECTIVE, ADVERB, PREPOSITION, CONJUNCTION) may find Penn’s 36 POS tags to be elaborate and useful. But I am not especially fond of them, because they conflate many things that are useful to distinguish in a parse. I prefer the NUPOS tagset, which is a much, much richer tag-set.

If you look at the NUPOS tags for adverbs, you will find that they have a category of adverb called a noun-adverb, meaning a noun used in a slot expecting an adverb, analogously to how a noun-adjective is a noun used in a slot expecting an adjective.

This isn’t anything fancy, and is indeed the very phenomenon we’re discussing here. When we say “Go home”, we find that we are using home, a word normally thought of as a noun, as an adverb. That’s because we are indicating where to go, and where is an adverbial application. If you like fancy words, locatives are always adverbs. (And home is a very good example of a locative, and a very popular one historically just as it is today. That’s why the noun for home in Latin, domus, preserved a vestigial locative form, domī, but lost almost all the other distinct locative inflexions for the rest of its nouns.)

Where some classical grammars use 7 POS tags and Penn uses 36 of them, NUPOS uses 17 major word classes:

 adjective
 adv/conj/pcl/prep
 adverb
 conjunction
 determiner
 foreign word
 interjection
 negative
 noun
 numeral
 preposition
 pronoun
 punctuation
 symbol
 undetermined
 verb
 wh-word

But those 17 are further split up into a set of 34, including things like this:

Name                 Description                             Major Class
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
acp                  adverb/conjunction/particle/preposition adv/conj/pcl/prep
an                   adverb/noun                             noun
av                   adverb                                  adverb
cc                   coordinating conjunction                conjunction
crq                  wh-word                                 wh-word
cs                   subordinating conjunction               conjunction
d                    determiner                              determiner
dt                   article                                 determiner

Even there, we can see that here there is such a thing as an adverb/noun, which belongs to the major class of noun. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, which is why NUPOS goes much farther, dividing up those 34 major classes into 241 different final POS tags. Here for example are the adverbial NUPOS tags, with illustrative examples:

Tag                  Explanation                             Example    
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
a-acp                acp word as adverb                      I have not seen him since 
av                   adverb                                  soon 
av-an                noun-adverb as adverb                   go home 
av-c                 comparative adverb                      sooner, rather 
avc-jn               comparative adj/noun as adverb          deeper 
av-d                 determiner/adverb as adverb             more slowly 
av-dc                comparative determiner/adverb as adverb can lesser hide his love 
av-ds                superlative determiner as adverb        most often 
av-dx                negative determiner as adverb           no more 
av-j                 adjective as adverb                     quickly 
av-jc                comparative adjective as adverb         he fared worse 
av-jn                adj/noun as adverb                      duly, right honourable 
av-js                superlative adjective as adverb         in you it best lies 
av-n1                noun as adverb                          had been cannibally given 
av-s                 superlative adverb                      soonest

j-av                 adverb as adjective                     the then king
n1-an                noun-adverb as singular noun            my home                
n1-j                 adjective as singular noun              a good               
n2-an                noun-adverb as plural noun              all our yesterdays                        
n2-av                adverb as plural noun                   and are etcecteras no things             
n2-dx                determiner/adverb negative as plural noun yeas and honest kerysey noes
ng1-an               noun-adverb in singular possessive use  Tomorrow's vengeance
uh-av                adverb as interjection                  Well!

Yup, that’s a lot of POS tags. But it is useful for people doing NLP to have these nuanced distinctions. It may be useful in other work, too.

So which of those are adverbs? Hard question. Facile answer is that those beginning with av* are. Oh and dx. Maybe some others, too.

See the problem? We’re categorizing things according to their job in the actual phrase, and words in English are super-flexible in their job-duties, much more so than a dictionary’s simple-minded part-of-speech listing suggests.

share|improve this answer
10  
It's a bit long, but this answer does it for me. Specifically because although you "sorta" refer to "home", say, as an "adverb", I can't help noticing that you often use expressions like noun-adverb, used an adverb, adverbially, etc. In the end, classifications such as *noun, verb, adverb, etc. don't always apply very well to "words" considered "in isolation". It makes more sense to say the classification applies to a word in the context of some specific usage. I'm now happy that "Monday" can be used adverbially, even though I'd rather not say "Monday" is therefore an adverb. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 15:42
    
This is very informative! Looking at the tags in the Penn Treebank, why does "to" get a dedicated tag? –  coleopterist Jul 22 '12 at 17:11
    
@coleopterist To gets a dedicated tag for when you have something like “I love to eat.” You cannot call to a preposition there, nor is it a verb, either. It’s just to. –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 17:46
    
@tchrist I see. Cheers :) –  coleopterist Jul 22 '12 at 18:14
    
The fact that you've got can be roped into service as an adverb in your very first sentence is the deciding factor for me, so I'm accepting this answer. I must admit I feel a bit sheepish about having asked the question in the first place, but I've got it clear in my mind now, thanks! –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 19:35

Cool Elf is right: those are all adverbs, because they modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. That is not to say that there aren't different kinds of adverbs; I believe modern Anglo-Saxon syntacticians even use different words for them. But this is the meaning of the word "adverb" as it is commonly used.

As to tomorrow, your example is a just a regular semantic syllepsis, which proves nothing:

I hit the ball and my head.

This doesn't mean that ball and head aren't both nouns. It just sounds odd because the verb hit is used in two slightly different ways.

share|improve this answer
1  
I think this answer is correct. English has several different classes of adverbs, and they can't be used in parallelism. Consider "he spoke to her rarely and imploringly." They're both clearly adverbs, but they don't work together. –  Peter Shor Jul 22 '12 at 14:26
    
I suppose I can't disagree with this - and I certainly recognise now that my tomorrow and quietly was pointlessly confusing (but I thought and wrote it, so I'll let it stand). But in the final analysis I'm more comfortable with the answers from Carlo_R. and tchrist, which don't explicitly defend the idea of calling "the word" weekdays an adverb. Rather, they say that such words can be used adverbially, which makes much more sense to me. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 15:49
    
Another oddity of noun-adverbs / adverb-nouns, beyond not being subject to normal adverbial comparative and superlative inflexions, is that they are very hard to rope into accepting an article, whether definite or indefinite. You really can’t get away with ∗the tomorrow, ∗this yesterday, or ∗a yesterday unless you strain really hard at it. And yet they readily accept plural and/or possessive/genitive inflexions just fine, as in “all our yesterdays” and “yesterday’s children” (which NUPOS respectively indicates using its n2-an and ng1-an tags). –  tchrist Jul 23 '12 at 13:13

The best way to remember how an adverb works is very simple: it describes how something is done or where or when, the verb is the action, the adverb describes the action.

The sign is a truncated form of a sentence; this is common. The original complete sentence more likely would have been:

"We are open on weekdays from 9 am to 6 pm."

"We" is the subject, a pronoun used to replace the owners of the store, who are saying something to us. "Are" is the action, the verb. "Open" describes "We", and thus is an adjective. The rest of the sentence is a complex prepositional phrase, at least if you are still learning. It describes how or when something is being done, so it works as an adverb.

The other thing to remember is that much less commonly an adverb describes and adjective (and consequently it NEVER describes a noun, such as the subject or object of a sentence.) It modifies the adjective. It tells us to what degree, how much, what kind of adjective.

The night was surreally beautiful and still.

I am very sick today and cannot come to work.

Remember these rules and you shall never fail to understand. Other than that, a note: Speakers of American English use something called the adverbial genitive more often than the rest of the English speaking world; American English received a large amount of its vocabulary and structure from British English as it was spoken from 1620-1730. The adverbial genitive was more common in England at the time but rarely is used anymore by comparison. So, if an American says "I don't schedule meetings Fridays" he is correct, but using an older form that might not work in a British dialect.

share|improve this answer
    
Hi Mary - welcome to ELU. I've upvoted your answer because it's all true, and clearly expressed. But as you may have realised from my other comments on this page, my problem wasn't really about how to identify contexts where a word "works as an adverb". It was my mistaken idea that words themselves can always be classified as one POS or another. In many cases they can't - it all depends on the context in which they're used. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 17:41
1  
You say that adverbs never describe a noun. The only way that can be true requires a tortured, self-referential, and circular definition. Consider the NP “the then king”, as I gave in my own answer. Most taggers will call that then an adverb, such as RB in Penn tags. NUPOS tags allow for j-rb, meaning an adverb used as an adjective, which is indeed what is occurring. –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 18:12
    
I am letting it stand because the way you have it is nowhere near as common as what I wrote originally, and teaching your construction to people who are just learning will only confuse them. "Then"as a word can be placed in a sentence dozens of ways. They need to learn that first before they see its use otherwise. Otherwise, in this case I see it as a change in part of speech, becoming a synonym for past, similar to how jump the verb becomes a noun, as one is the action and the other is the act. –  Mary Jul 22 '12 at 18:32
1  
Nominal use: Mondays are the toughest days, and also Monday’s child is fair of face. Adverbial use: Mondays I always get up late, or also We have a meeting Monday. Adjectival use: Monday morning meetings are always sleepy ones. Verbal use: Don’t just good morning me and walk off! –  tchrist Jul 23 '12 at 13:23
    
@tchrist :I've only just found this thread! I don't like the classification of words like 'then' (as in your example), 'former', 'alleged', 'mere', 'fake' (as in 'a fake gun') as true adjectives at all - though I've seen them classed as 'non-semantically-predicative adjectives'. They seem, to me, to comment on the classification, some aspect of the classification, or the time-reference of the associated noun's referent rather than any attribute. I'd say they have almost a determiner-with-semantic-content function. And any connection with adverbialness has been lost in the mists of ellipsis. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '13 at 10:05

An adverbial phrase (AdvP) is a linguistic term for a group of two or more words operating adverbially, when viewed in terms of their syntactic function.

Compare the following sentences:

  • I'll go to bed soon.
  • I'll go to bed in an hour.
  • I'll go to bed when I've finished my book.

In the first, soon is an adverb (as distinct from a noun or verb), and it is an adverbial (as distinct from a subject or object). Clearly, in the second sentence, in an hour has the same syntactic function, though it does not contain an adverb; therefore, a prepositional phrase consisting of a preposition and a noun (preceded by its article) can function as an adverbial and is called an adverbial phrase. In the third sentence, we see a whole clause functioning as an adverbial; it is termed an adverbial clause.

So, 'Weekdays' is an adverb for the same (syntactic) reason 'soon' is an adverb in the above example.

Reference: Wikipedia, Adverbial phrase

share|improve this answer

As two professional linguists David Ward and John Lawler, said last week and the week before that, respectively, "Part of speech (POS) is not important: function is important". A nominal adjective is always a noun, even when it functions as an adjective. Tomorrow functions very well and most often as a noun and an adverb of time. I don't know which POS of speech it is. The dictionary calls it both a noun and an adverb based on its function, not its POS.

He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Nowhere is an adjective in the first and third lines in these Beatles lyrics, a noun (function: nominal adjective) in the second line, and a locative adverb in the sentence "I have nowhere to go". POS doesn't matter: function matters.

"I'll see you Monday" is merely an elided sentence because grammatically, according to Chomsky, the underlying structure is "I'll see you on Monday", so the preposition in front of the proper noun Monday is missing. However, because there's no preposition and it has the same structure as "I'll see you soon", it seems to function as an adverb of time. Does the underlying structure really exist? Does it really matter? It's both a terminological question and a theoretical question. What linguistic theory or paradigm are we using to parse the sentence: structural, functional, generative, cognitive, or some other? I don't know how many there are, but whatever one's answer, one has put oneself into a box that restricts and, therefore, biases one's analysis.

If we don't all agree to the same definitions and values for the terms we use when describing language, then how can we meaningfully discuss it?

share|improve this answer
    
I don't see why you say Sitting in his Nowhere Land uses "nowhere" any differently to the lines before and after. They all look like "adjectives" to me, modifying man, Land, plans respectively. If it were otherwise, wouldn't that constitute a form of syllepsis, and wouldn't that therefore cause the average listener/reader to stumble a bit on having to deal with the switch in function? –  FumbleFingers Oct 19 '12 at 15:27
    
In the 2nd line, Nowhere is a proper noun, the name of the land in which he's sitting: capital "N". It's a nominal adjective. That's its function. The tyrannical dictionary says "nowhere"'s an adjective & an adverb, depending on how it's used. Strictly terminological. Not a matter of substance. POS is unimportant. Function is important. It's not syllepsis. All these usages are commonplace in English. What's the diff between a New York strip steak & a new york strip steak? None, but w/o the caps, "new york" isn't the proper name of NYC. In all the lines, "nowhere" functions as an ADJ. –  user21497 Oct 19 '12 at 16:30
    
Nah. I don't buy that. He could have just as easily been sitting in his fantasy land, and I'm not about to be convinced that would mean a land called "Fantasy". Also note that it's a song, so you can pretty much ignore any possible capitalisation. –  FumbleFingers Oct 19 '12 at 16:34
    
Regardless of the POS. It isn't used any differently in those three lines: the function is the same, but the POS is different. Gotta go to bed now. Just after midnight here. More tomorrow. Maybe we'll have to take this to chat. –  user21497 Oct 19 '12 at 16:34
1  
I don't see how the two statements: (1) 'A nominal adjective is always a noun, even when it functions as an adjective' (2) 'POS doesn't matter: function matters' can seriously be uttered in the same breath. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '13 at 22:12

From our old grammar textbooks, adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Ex.

He runs fast.

He is incredibly fast.

He did incredibly well.

I didn't quite get what you mean by citing the word "tomorrow." "Tomorrow" has always been a prototypical adverb in that it describes verbs by expressing time. For the same reason, it doesn't use any prepositions before it as well.


As for "weekdays," it has often been a noun for me too. But I suppose if "weekends" can be an adverb, why not "weekdays"?

share|improve this answer
    
I’ve heard that some UK speakers rankle at the use of days of the week as unprepositioned when-adverbs. To me, it makes no difference to say “I don’t work Sunday/Sundays/weekdays/weekends,” but not everyone speaks as I do. Perhaps contrast American “I’ll see you Monday then” with the ungrammatical “I’ll see you *January then ” to get a feel for their discomfort. –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 13:45
    
I cited tomorrow because it seems to me it functions the same as weekdays in my examples, and it made it easier to construct my final example "*I'll go tomorrow and quietly", which to my mind shows that tomorrow doesn't work the same as quickly. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 13:45
1  
@tchrist: There's nothing wrong with "I'll see you next January". So this leads us to the rather unfortunate conclusion that "January" is not an adverb, but "next January" is. –  Peter Shor Jul 22 '12 at 14:23
1  
@FumbleFingers A better example that we’re not dealing with the same class of word here is that while you can go more quietly or even sooner, you cannot go ∗more tomorrow or ∗more Tuesday. That’s because noun-adverbs are not so amenable to being inflected according to degree as certain others sorts of adverbs are. See my longer answer. –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 15:09
1  
@Peter Shor: I don't know if tchrist is right that some UK speakers don't like "I'll see you Monday" any more than some Americans might. It's fine by me. In fact, I don't really think I have a problem with saying "I'll see you guys January" as I leave office on Christmas Eve. And I'm certainly okay with "I'll see you next summer", but "I'll see you summer" is dead in the water. Classification of words as disembodied words, out of context simply doesn't work in many cases. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 16:06

At http://www.englishforums.com/English/AdverbialObjectives/bvwmv/post.htm , there is an article listing quite a few adverbial objectives (nouns used as adverbs, or nouns used as if they were adverbs) by 'paco'. While I'd query the classification of some of his examples as adverbs / adverbial objectives, and the jury is out on whether the nouns have fully converted to adverbs, it's useful reading.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.