"The irate customer asked for the chef."

The irate customer asked something. (Noun phrase?)

Since you can fill in something in place of 'for the chef,' does that mean it is a direct object and an adverb at the same time?

  • 2
    Surely this is General Reference/Too Basic? Just because you can grammatically replace something with something else doesn't imply those two things are the same "part of speech". Should ELU need to be spelling things out at this level? Jul 3, 2012 at 2:08
  • 1
    ...*"He asked a question". *"He asked for the chef". "He asked for no good reason". "He asked after you". Etc., etc. Jul 3, 2012 at 2:12

5 Answers 5



Someone is indeed a noun phrase acting as direct object, but it in no sense stands in for for the chef.

Your first example uses the phrasal verb ask for, which means to require or try to get something (or somebody).

Your second example uses the different verb ask, which means to make a request or pose a question.

Look at the difference between

What did the customer ask?


What did the customer ask for?

The first one is answered by the expression of a question (eg where the chef was), the second is answered by the thing (or in this case, person) that the customer was seeking (eg the chef).

There is a third possibility if the direct object is a person, or "who":

Who did the customer ask?


Who did the customer put a question to (or make a request of)

and is again quite different from

Who did the customer ask for.

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    Exactly. Syntax isn't about strings of words -- syntax is about constituents and how they're used in constructions. Jul 2, 2012 at 15:50

Ditto Colin on the specifics here.

But more generally, it looks like you're thinking that because you can substitute X for Y in a sentence and it still makes sense, that this must mean that X and Y are the same part of speech or otherwise equivalent. This just isn't true. There are many different ways to construct a sentence. It's not like there's one simple pattern with only one possible type of component in each place.

Like, I can say, "Bob walked quickly" and I can say "Bob walked the dog." The fact that I can replace an adverb with "the dog" doesn't make "the dog" an adverb, etc.

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    Good. I answered a specific of this question, but you answered the more general case.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 2, 2012 at 20:27
  • 'He took the dog a walk' and 'He took the dog a bone' are isoformal (Npr + Vps + Det + N + Det + N) but have different underlying structures. Aug 23, 2020 at 14:41

Something is an adverb in "my back hurts something terrible"; in "the irate customer asked something," it is a pronoun.



Example: When do you leave here to catch the train?

The 'here' means 'this place' and is the object of 'leave'.

-'Special English Syntax' by Eugene, 2012.

  • A snag is with the very similar-looking "When do you go there to catch the train?" 'There' is surely not a DO. Aug 23, 2020 at 14:27
  • @EdwinAshworth Under some classification systems, spatial and temporal deictics like home, here, there, now, tomorrow count as nouns (or pronouns) that get used adverbially. For example, the OED says that the proximal locative deictic here can be a noun meaning “this place” and provides many historical citations, including this one: 1838 Charles Dickens Oliver Twist II. xxxiv. 269 — “I—I—ought to have left here before.” The problem is that “adverb” is a junkyard classification tossed willy nilly at numerous unlike things.
    – tchrist
    Aug 23, 2020 at 14:32
  • @tchrist It also sidesteps the 'I ought to have gone there/*London before' lookalike. Aug 23, 2020 at 14:37
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    @EdwinAshworth Right, the spatial relationship which is normally specified by a preposition like at, to, from is built right into the deictic pro-expression itself, so there stands in for to London as shown in coming here or going there. But in going from here to there, you actually do have prepositions, ones whose objects are deictics. It's hard to call those deictics “adverbs” because adverbs aren't substantives as you need for any sort of object, whether that of a verb or that of a preposition; adverbs are modifiers not substantives.
    – tchrist
    Aug 23, 2020 at 14:40
  • We cannot find 'here' as a noun in the 'Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English' and the 'Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.' A noun 'here' : 'from here', 'in here', 'up to here', etc.
    – FinePine
    Aug 24, 2020 at 0:32

Some grammars call them 'Noun Adverbs', in fact. But I suppose terminology in grammar is not always etched in stone; only you should know how it works.

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