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What Is an Adverbial Noun?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 17, 2024
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An adverbial noun is a word which serves the function of either a noun or an adverb depending on the sentence in which it is used. Nouns dealing in measurements of some kind, such as time frames or distances, are usually adverbial nouns. Like adverbs, these nouns normally modify verbs but can also modify adjectives.

As modifiers, adverbial nouns provide additional details about a verb or adjective. They answer a question of measurement, such as the distance, direction, or time of an action or the weight or value of a thing. Although these nouns often occur at or near the end of a sentence, they should not be confused with the object of the sentence. The object refers to the thing the action is acting upon or happening to and thus answers the question "what?"

For example, in the sentence "I drove north," the word "north" is an adverbial noun. It is giving additional detail about the direction in which speaker drove and answering the question of "where." Likewise, "I drove for an hour" indicates a length of time, answering "how long?," making "an hour" also an adverbial noun. The sentence "I drove my car," however, answers a question of "what." The words "my car" are, therefore, the object of the sentence.

Nouns may remain unchanged when used as adverbs, or they may have their own adverbial forms. Just as with adjectives, adverbial forms of nouns commonly end in the suffix "-ly". For example, in the sentence "the festival is held yearly," the word "yearly" is the adverbial form of the word "year." The word "year" can be used as an adverbial noun without the "-ly" suffix as well: "She has worked a year."

Nouns denoting numbers and seasons are also commonly used for adverbs. For example, "she lifted 20 pounds." The words "20 pounds" tell the audience how much she lifted, not what she lifted, so they are acting as adverbial nouns. Likewise, in the sentence, "Heidi starts school this autumn," the word "autumn" serves as an adverbial noun. This example also contains an object: "school."

Adverbial nouns can also modify an adjective in a sentence. The adjective "worth," for example, is usually modified by one of these nouns. In the sentence, "the necklace is only worth a dollar," the word "dollar" is an adverbial noun. Since worth indicates an answer to the question "how much," it requires an amount as a modifier.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003867 — On Sep 24, 2020

The example in the caption does not include an adverbial noun.

“The kids played outside for an hour” contains the subject, “the kids,” the verb, “played,” the predicate adjective “outside,” and a prepositional phrase, “for an hour.” Therefore, the prepositional phrase in its entirety is functioning as an adverb, and “hour” is the object of the preposition, not an adverbial noun to “played.”

“I drove north” works.

By bythewell — On Feb 05, 2013

What really annoys me is when people start using nouns as verbs. I get that you can modify nouns in some ways, like the way they are used here, but it seems like every time I turn around people are using a noun as a verb and it really gets to me.

I understand that it's hard to come up with anything other than "friending" and that there's all this new technology and people are going to come up with the simplest way to name new actions to go along with that. But do they really need to make action into a verb?

It would be like saying "I'm northing" instead of "I'm running north". If we get too ridiculous, we'll end up not needing to use adverbial words and clauses at all, because all our verbs will be descriptive enough on their own.

By umbra21 — On Feb 05, 2013

@croydon - It is important to remember that not all words can serve as adverbial nouns though. It does mostly tend to be words referring to the time and space since most nouns just wouldn't make sense in that kind of syntax.

One thing I found kind of hilarious is that you can use swear words adverbially as well and people do it all the time. If you say "you're freaking kidding" for example, "freaking" is adverbial, although it's not a noun.

By croydon — On Feb 04, 2013

It took me a while to understand this, but I think the light came on when I realized that these words are still nouns, just ordinary nouns, but they can be used "adverbially".

There are a lot of different words that can be used as adverbials and not all of them are adverbs. Even whole groups of words can be adverbial as long as they are describing the action in the sentence.

So if I say something like "I ran through the desert because I was crazy" the group of words "because I was crazy" is considered to be an adverbial clause. If I say "I ran north" then north is an adverbial noun.

I guess I was thinking that these were special words rather than that it was the term for a certain kind of sentence structure and that's what confused me.

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