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In this Google Books search for "a cold yesterday", I found "Johnny had a cold yesterday."

Is this usage correct? Can we use "quality-adjective + adverbial noun" to make "noun group"?

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Cold yesterday is not a noun phrase in the examples in the link. Cold refers to an illness, and yesterday refers to the time he had the illness and is not part of the noun phrase. The sentence is correct and can also be written as Yesterday, Johnny had a cold.

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    @jaxad0127 Do you have a reference for that? I would assume that "a cold" refers to the constellation of viral infection upper respiratory symptoms commonly called the "common cold", which can include low-grade fever. – 1006a Sep 6 '17 at 1:03
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    Double checking the source I checked earlier, it can be both. Great.... – jaxad0127 Sep 6 '17 at 1:10
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    @jaxad0127: Would you care to share that source? The dictionaries I checked only list the "common cold" meaning. (Don't confuse a cold, which means the viral illness that 1006a was talking about, with cold or the cold, which means low temperature in general.) – psmears Sep 6 '17 at 7:29
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    So that there be no doubt, let me state that as a native speaker, I'm agreeing that "a cold" refers to an illness that people commonly think they are more prone to get when they are exposed to cold temperatures, and that resulting (feverish) high temperatures can be a part of the experience of having "a cold". This is the reality of common usage, despite whether the dictionaries go into that much detail. – TOOGAM Sep 6 '17 at 12:44
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    In @jasper's re-written sentence, yeterday is an interjection. In the original sentence, it could be considered an adverbial phrase, describing the verb had. – Spencer Williams Sep 7 '17 at 21:03
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Yes, but that's not what's being done here.

"Cold" here is used as a noun, referring to an illness where the person has a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezes. So "Johnny had a cold" means that the person named Johnny had the illness which is called a "cold". "Yesterday" is an adverb saying when he had it: he had it yesterday.

That said, there is a very similar construction that might confuse you. It is common to say things like, "We had a cold winter", meaning that the winter was cold. In this case "winter" is the noun and "cold" is an adjective modifying "winter".

Similarly, someone might say, "We had a very busy Monday": Monday is the noun, busy is an adjective. "Yesterday" can be used as a noun, as in, "Yesterday was my birthday". I've never heard someone say, "We had a busy yesterday", it's not something fluent speakers say, but if I heard someone say that I'd assume they meant "yesterday" as a noun and "busy" as the adjective.

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    To add to this, we'd normally say "We had a busy day, yesterday" rather than "We had a busy yesterday". – The Photon Sep 5 '17 at 18:49
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    I could also see "a cold yesterday" being used as a poetic phrase for "a cold day long ago". – Shufflepants Sep 5 '17 at 20:55
  • @ThePhoton Exactly. If someone said, "We had a busy yesterday", I'd understand what he meant. But it's not the way most people would say it. – Jay Sep 6 '17 at 13:31

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