I have asked the same question in ELL stackexchange, but unfortunately haven't received enough answer/comment. The one answer I got is not satisfactory. So that's the reason I am asking it here again. Link to ELL post.

I have seen in some cases prepositions are omitted before some noun phrases. And it's explained that those phrases are actually an adverb phrases. But I know a simple thing. If the head of the phrase is a noun, it's a noun phrase. If the head of the phrase is an adverb it is an adverb phrase.

For example -

  1. Look both ways before crossing the road. [both ways is a noun phrase, where the head is ways, but still there is no preposition.]

  2. He approached me in a friendly way. [a friendly way is a noun phrase, where the head is way, but as expected unlike sentence #1 it's preceded by the preposition in. And I have never seen this phrase is used without a preposition. I believe dropping the preposition is wrong, according to the grammar.]

  3. She made a pickle a different way from her mother. [a different way is a noun phrase, where the head is way, but strangely there is no preposition before it. But I have seen examples of a different way used both with prepositions and without prepositions. I think the preposition here is optional.]

Now from these example sentences I have tried to demonstrate my problem/confusing area. My question is -

1. When a noun phrase is used as an adverb phrase?

2. When before a noun phrase the placement of preposition is obligatory (like sentence #2)? And where it's optional (like sentence #3)? And where placing the preposition is wrong (like sentence #1)?

  • When we call a phrase "a noun phrase" are we saying anything at all about its role in a sentence? No need to answer in haste.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:51
  • @TimRomano True, no we don't. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:58

3 Answers 3


1# Look both ways. Commands telling someone where to look with way typically do not need a preposition: look my way, look this way, look the other way.

Conversely, (the much less likely) command telling someone which looking method to use can, but does not need to, have the preposition. So, look in both ways could mean something like: Look first with your left eye closed and then with both eyes half open. The preposition is optional here (in!) the same way that it is in example 3.

2# He approached me in a friendly way. In this case, the phrase in an [adjective] way means in an [adjective] manner. For example, in a suspicious way, in a hesitant way, in a confident way. It seems that the in is not optional when way has this sense.

3# She made a pickle a different way. Here way is synonymous with method. And it appears that the in is optional in such contexts. Omitting the preposition when way means method renders the language more informal. This is what Swan in Practical English Usage (p606) says:

In an informal style, we usually drop the preposition in before way:

  • You're doing it (in) the wrong way.
  • Do it (in) any way you like.

The original poster has shown than my answer is probably wrong. It is kept here for reference as follows:

I believe that yours may be a case of the rather advanced rule, cited by Orwell, that one can sometimes omit a conjunction or preposition for euphonic reasons if the meaning remains clear. For example, in "I think I can do it," to think is a transitive verb which wants an object, introduced by the conjunction that, as in "I think that I can do it." I usually prefer not to omit such words, but Orwell and The Wall Street Journal both disagree with me, and they are better writers than I am.

Your point regarding the adverbial phrase is well taken and well explained, and I am not sure that a better answer than mine is not possible, but if my answer is right, then in your sentence, the preposition in is implied.

  • 1
    Thanks. See in sentence #2 it's obligatory to have a preposition, but in sentence #3 it's optional. And in sentence #1 it's obligatory not to have any preposition there. Why, then? Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:21
  • That is a good question. I don't know.
    – thb
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:23
  • I fail to see any logic in the distinction, but idiomatically somehow, the distinction persists. Excellent point.
    – thb
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:26

At 1,

Look both ways = Look in both directions

Thus, the preposition is there, implied by the meaning - which you have to know :-)

In 2 and 3, "in" is normally required, e.g. look here at the results at Google Books (do NOT use vanilla Google, it is full of uneducated or of non-native samples) for the core part of your example at 3

"a different way from her"

Practically all the contexts use an "in" in front of the expression. If an "in" is missing, that is rare and accidental, and not critical in informal speech.



there are 25 samples for:

"a different way from"

All of them except one use "in" in front of them. The one not using "in" is coming from an American Indian/Native, who obviously uses his own English, which is non-standard:

Date 2001 (Fall) Publication information Fall2001, Vol. 25 Issue 4, p579, 25p, 3bw Title Francis LaFlesche and the World of Letters. Author Smith, Sherry L. Source American Indian Quarterly

Expanded context:

despite change, Native people are asserting ownership over knowledge of their cultural history. # Haines informed me that he " understands how important salmon has always been to Ahousaht people, but that he also understands that whaling was extremely significant to the culture, and that's pretty much gone, the way of the dodo. " James Curtis, on the other hand, explained that fishing, preparing, distributing, and consuming wild seafoods is not a fashion but a way of being that recreates the past while envisioning the future: # Our people use fish a different way from white people. He Carl Haines may eat it, but it's like, it's kind of a trophy thing. I don't like to put it that way, but it's like this is one that I caught.

Other than that, all the examples, even in SPOKEN, such as this one, are using the "in":


But compare Hillary Clinton to other first ladies, say Barbara Bush, who was polling 20:1 positive even when her husband was losing to Bill Clinton in 1992. KATHLEEN-FRANKOVIC: It's fair to say that she was, in fact, being judged by different standards than other first ladies, but part of that is probably because she was acting as first lady in a different way from other first ladies. TEICHNER: (Voiceover) Kathleen Frankovic heads the CBS News polling unit.

Further, at the The British National Corpus (BNC)

try to look up for

a different way from

[no quotes]

Please tell me how many of the results are using "in." I'd say all.

Thus, all three Google Books, COCA and BNC statistics contradict your assumption that "in" is optional at 3.

  • That in sentence #3 it's optional I know. But see it's not optional in sentence #2 :O Yes I know it's safe to use a preposition there, but I am concerned when it's right if it's omitted. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 17:32
  • I did not say it's optional in 3. It's not. It's an accidental occurrence, which is tolerated, see thb's answer. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 18:07
  • I beg to differ. I have copied that sentence probably from Cambridge dictionary. Chances are that there is no accidental occurrence. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 18:11
  • Why don't you drill down in the stats from Google Books in my link, to try to find missing "in"s? You won't find many, if one:-) Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 18:21
  • Yes I have already visited your link and found what you meant :-) Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 18:42

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