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I saw the following sentence in Time magazine’s (December 3) article titled “Betraying physical book: A book lover’s e-dilemma:

“When electronic books first came out, I embraced them wholeheartedly. In fact, I was one of the first to buy Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader the second it was available.”

Is “the second” used adverbially? What is the function of ‘the second’ as a part of speech in this instance? Is it common to drop a preposition (in or at) before ‘the second (minute, moment, or instant)’ in expressing simultaneity?

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Indeed it is common to drop the preposition in this context. At least one dictionary describes this usage as idiomatic. – J.R. Dec 20 '12 at 10:39
Any exception to general usage in a particular case, like dropping a normal marker, marks the construction as at least venially idiomatic. For second, one can substitute any other time unit, though the intent varies; second is indeed hyperbolic; minute is less so. Hour or day, on the other hand, are out of place in this sentence, but they can also appear with a preposition in appropriate sentences The day he got here he told me about it. – John Lawler Dec 20 '12 at 15:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Using "the second it was available" is hyperbole. The normal way of expressing that is "as soon as it was (made) available". You can replace "second" with "instant" or "minute" to maintain the hyperbole. "The second" looks like an adverbial phrase of time, just as "as soon as" is an adverbial phrase of time.

You could change "the second" to "at the very {second/moment/instant/minute} it appeared" if you wanted to use a prepositional phrase, but it's not necessary.

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