1)A woman fell 50 feet down a cliff.

2)The project was finished 10 days ahead of the schedule.

3)Emma is 10 years older than Sophie.

4)I finished the project 10 days ago.

1)50 feet/10 days/10 years/10 days

I think of them as Noun phrases.

2)down a cliff/ahead of the schedule/ago

They are considered as the adverbial phrases.

Is it right?

I know that the noun phrase can’t modify the adverbial phrases, but in this cases, they are not only closely related to the adverbial phrases above but also semantically seem to qualify the latter.

I remember Noun can function as the main elements of subjects of verbs (A dog just barked), or of objects of verbs or prepositions, except for compound noun phrase. Someone tells me that the noun phrases is used as the adverbial phrase here, so they can modify the latter.

Suppose that he is right. Then, is it also correct that the "pseudo" adverbial phrases should modify the real adverbial phrases?


2 Answers 2


In the Original Poster's examples we see the following types of phrase carrying out different types of function:

  1. A woman fell 50 feet down a cliff. (preposition phrase; Complement of the verb)

  2. The project was finished 10 days ahead of the schedule. (preposition phrase; Adjunct)

  3. Emma is 10 years older than Sophie. (adjective phrase; Predicative Complement)

  4. I finished the project 10 days ago. (preposition phrase; Adjunct)

Within these phrases we see the noun phrases 50 feet, 10 days and 10 years acting as MEASURE PHRASES. This type of noun phrase is in fact very often used as a modifier within other types of phrase:

  • a ten mile run (modifier in noun phrase)
  • ten miles wide (modifier in adjective phrase)
  • ten minutes into the programme (modifier in preposition phrase)
  • ten minutes late (modifier in adverb phrase)
  • I was there only ten minutes (modifier in verb phrase)

The function illustrated in the last example, modifier in verb phrase, is also commonly termed an adjunct, or by some writers, an adverbial. Notice that we need to keep a very distinct line between being a noun phrase, preposition phrase, adjective phrase and so forth and being a Subject, Complement, Modifier, 'Adverbial' and so forth.

The Original Poster's question

Although the phrase "adverbial" is widely misused, it can be used in a principled way when used to refer to a phrase functioning as Adunct, in other words functioning as a modifier in a verb phrase. Notice that this only applies to the phrases in examples (1) and (3) in the Original Poster's examples. There is no restriction on noun phrases being used as modifiers of phrases functioning as 'adverbials'. In fact, as demonstrated, noun phrases can occur as modifiers in a very wide variety of types of phrase!

  • Wow... thank you! I can organize all the concept thanks to you. To study English Grammar, I'm studying the book, "Practical English Usage". Do you think it it a good one? Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 5:09
  • @anotherworld Thanks : ) It depends , really, on why your studying. Are you a language student or a teacher or an enthusiast? Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 8:14
  • Do you happen to know Hakwon? It's the Korean-language word for a cram school common in Korea. I'm studying English really hard to be a great instructor in there to give a lot of students a great lesson, focused on teaching it properly. Actually, a lot of instructors mislead naive students about the knowledge of English Grammar. I want to set the problem straight. That's it. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 11:25
  • @anotherworld For the core grammar I'd have a look at A student's introduction to English grammar by Huddleston & Pullum 2005. But I'd also use PEU for info on what we tend to do. It's also good for helpful diagrams and for conceptualising some difficult ideas. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 9:46

The term is:

Essential English Grammar - Page 86 Philip Gucker - 2012

Adverbial Objective (or Adverbial Noun)

A noun used as an adverb, to modify a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.


"down a cliff" (an adverbial) is modified by "50 feet" (a noun phrase) etc., in your case. Just a bit more general.

  • Then, Is "10 days" qualified by "ahead of the schedule" in the sentence above."? And "50 feet" is modified by "down a cliff."? Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 4:40
  • Updated. The other way round :-) Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 4:45

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