An example sentence from the Cambridge Dictionary:

[I] He only lived a few days after the accident.

[I] means "intransitive verb". He (subject) + lived (verb) + a few days (noun). What part of speech is a few days?

From the Longman dictionary:

number 5

  1. way of life[intransitive always + adverb/preposition, transitive] to have a particular type of life, or live in a particular way

used 'transitive verb' like 'She lives a very busy life.'

From the ELU question Adjective pluralization:

She is 16 year old.

'16 years' as acting as an adverb.

My questions are:

  1. In "He lived a few days.", is a few days an object (noun) or an adverb?
  2. How is it different from "He lived for a few days."?
  3. "I walked ten miles." Number + measurement — how can I deal with 'part of speech'?

4 Answers 4


You are right that a few days by itself is a noun phrase.

But to answer this question, we have to first realise that he lived a few days is slightly contracted from he lived for a few days.

With that in mind, it becomes clearer that for a few days is an adverb to lived. With a transitive verb, we might see something like, He lived a charmed life.

  • 1
    Surely in "I lived in Rome" lived is still intransitive? In Rome is a prepositional phrase, not an object. An object would be what is lived, as in "She lived a good life" (as quoted in the question).
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 7:47
  • You're quite right, @AndrewLeach. Edited.
    – Karl
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 8:02
  • 1
    'He lived a charmed life' is an example of what is known as a cognate object. cf 'She danced the dance of death'. // 'They danced a tango' has a hyponymic object ('tango' a hyponym of the noun 'dance'). Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 17:25

A few days and for a few days perform the same function. They are both adverbials. The authors of the LGSWE (‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’) identify a hierarchy of adverbials. At the highest level they serve three major functions, depending on whether they occur as Circumstance adverbials, Stance adverbials or Linking adverbials. Circumstance adverbials can be divided into a number of categories, of which one is Time, and Time adverbials are used for four temporal meanings, of which one is Duration. So, (for) a few days is a Circumstance adverbial in the category of Time used to express Duration.

I walked ten miles is a little less straightforward, because many might see it as being on the pattern Subject-Verb-Object. However, ten miles isn’t something on which the speaker has an effect, as might be the case with ball in I kicked the ball. Ten miles is once again a Circumstance adverbial, but of the type that, under the general category of Place, can express Distance. It is on the same pattern as that of these two authentic examples which the authors of the LGSWE provide to illustrate this type of adverbial:

I had to go a long way to put the camp behind me.

A woman who fell 50 feet down a cliff was rescued by a Royal Navy helicopter.


1. At http://www.englishforums.com/English/Ad ... v/post.htm one finds:

Many English nouns and noun phrases can be used as adverbs. They are called "adverbial objectives". From the standpoint of word order, an adverbial objective is put as if it were an objective of a verb, but actually it works as an adverbial modifier of the verb. This sort of construct comes from an Old English grammar rule that allowed the use of accusative cases of nouns as adverbs. For example, let's take an Old English sentence "He eode ham"[=He went home]. From the view of current English the word "ham" [home] would be treated as an adverb but it was the accusative of the noun "ham" in Old English. In current English this sort of noun phrase usage is prominent especially in the cases where the noun phrases indicate "time/duration", "space/direction/distance", "measure/degree", and "manner" (there are others):


[1.] Did you see him this morning?

[2.] What time shall we go?

[3.] She is thirty years old.

[4.] I'd like to start Wednesday, the first jury day. ["the first jury day" is appositive to "Wednesday"]

[5.] Please tell me what day you are free.

[6.] The parcel arrived last week.

[7.] They prayed all night in the cathedral.

[8.] They walked two hours.

Some other examples of noun phrases of this use: every day, next week, next Monday, the day after tomorrow, one of these days, one day, any day in this week, etc.


[1.] Today I came a different way. ["Today" is a TIME adverbial objective]

[2.] Elms stood either side of the street.

[3.] Let's go some place.

[4.] He lives next door.

[5.] She'll come home soon.

[6.] Come this way, please!

[7.] We wandered north and north.

[8.] We walked ten miles.


[1.] She was thirty years old.

[2.] The bottle was about three quarters full.


[1.] I should not mind a bit.

[2.] She blamed herself no end.

[3.] She used to laugh a good/great deal.


[1.] Don't look at me that way.

[3.] He came full speed.

[4.] He stood there sailor-fashion.

[5.] She run upstairs two steps at a time.

[6.] They walked barefoot.

[7.] Our ship sailed first thing in the morning.


[1.] Bind him hand and foot.

[2.] He smote them hip and thigh.

[3.] We all got to go sometime reason or no reason.

[4.] Let's fight tooth and nail.

[5.] They discussed the matter heart to heart.

Some other examples of couplets: day after day, year after year, face to face.

The Superlative and the Comparative

[1.] My father liked this hat the best.

[2.] He runs the faster.

[3.] She couldn't know which she liked the better.

[4.] I don't know whose eyes would be the widest open.


[1.] She visited the States twice a year.

[2.] He paid $ 20 a pair for my shoes. [paco] [tidied]

In an attempt to point towards a more complete understanding of transitivity, I'll also mention:

2. At http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dMce ... &q&f=false, in ‘An historical syntax of the English language’, Volume 1, Part 3, p135ff,

Fredericus Theodorus Visser gives much valuable information and theorisation on why some of the syntactic patterns we use in English seem / are so idiosyncratic. Functional shifts and loss of markers showing cases not used in today's English are the major reasons given for perhaps unexpected usages. Transitivation of verbs is stated to have been extremely large-scale. Quasi-transitive verbs (I assume half the grammarians in the world consider them truly transitive...) of two types are posited:

The Saharan route is now flown by the French. / They ambled the circuit.

The land flows milk. (archaic) / He sweated blood. (not really a hyponymous cognate object)

3. There are many verbo-nominal expressions that may be considered either as idioms or as less set-in-stone collocations that do not seem to be central transitive verb + direct object usages. Some people label this ‘the use of a syntactic’ [not semantic] ‘direct object’. On an increasingly-fixed cline, I’d suggest:

break the law; bare one’s soul; weigh anchor; catch fire; look daggers (at); trip the light fantastic; lead someone a merry dance.

Notice that only the first example transitivises acceptably, and a follow-on statement or question using pronoun substitution is ungrammatical, eg

It caught fire. *Fire was caught. *Did it catch it?

He looked daggers at her. *Daggers were looked at her by him. *He looked them at her.

  • I'm not sure if this answers the question "Is the "live" in "He only lived a few days after the accident" intransitive or transitive?"
    – Greybeard
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:30
  • The first paragraph states that not all DO-lookalikes are actual direct objects. 'From the standpoint of word order, an adverbial objective is put as if it were an objective of a verb, but actually it works as an adverbial modifier of the verb.' Lived in 'He only lived a few days after the accident' has an adverbial objective (CGEL has other terminology) not a DO. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:51
  • 1
    "The first paragraph states that not all DO-lookalikes are actual direct objects." That much is clear. Is "live" transitive in the given sentence? "Yes" or "No"?
    – Greybeard
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:59
  • Example 8, 'They walked two hours', is virtually identical and included in the 'not an objective [/object ...]) of a verb but actually works as an adverbial' class. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 15:34

A noun phrase such as three years, three days, cannot function as adverbs in the same way phrases with temporal meaning like last year, next week, can.

   Last week there was an accident.
*Three years there was an accident.

Note also that it is a noun phrase and not a prepositional phrase, and objects are in the form of "bare" noun phrases in English.

On the other hand, rearranging the system into a relative clause or passive changes the meaning to where it seems that the sentence is about the particular years in history that followed the accident (which it's not).

Three years were lived by him after the accident. (e.g., 1997, 1998, and 1999)
The three years that he lived after the accident... (e.g., 1997, 1998, and 1999)

Although I'd call it an object, it doesn't have all of the properties objects usually do. This particular type of object might be classified semantically as an incremental theme, since it "measures out" an event, but I'm not sure since it can't be submitted to the kind of test that is usually done for incremental themes, where you add something like "in X minutes/days/years" to the sentence and see if it still comes out fine.

  • “Three years” cannot be used the same way as “last week” because it refers to a duration, but it can be used adverbially: “Three years I waited for the return of the expedition.” “I waited for you three hours.”
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 19:09
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 28 at 22:37

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