I'm wondering how common, in English, it is to use a noun as an adverb. For example, they were Christmas shopping; they were break dancing. In those cases, 'Christmas' and 'break' are actually nouns defined in dictionaries.

I haven't encountered much like the cases above so far. Is it common in English? Are there more examples? Are there rules or something that can identify what kind of nouns that can be used as an adverb?

  • Are you sure you are trying to mean "noun-adverb"? – Kentaro Nov 16 '19 at 1:00
  • @Kentaro I don't quite understand what you really mean. – dan Nov 16 '19 at 2:03
  • I mean, "dancing", "shopping" are all nouns. – Kentaro Nov 16 '19 at 2:09
  • @Kentaro But they are used as verbs in those sentences, “They were Christmas shopping.” Don't they? – dan Nov 16 '19 at 2:16
  • I also mean, infinite verb + ing can be mostly the noun link [ learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/… ]. I was taught when I was a 8th grader. – Kentaro Nov 16 '19 at 2:17

I don't agree with the analysis of these words as "nouns used as adverbs".

"Break-dancing" is a compound noun. There is a compound verb "he break-dances", but I would not consider "break" to be an adverb in that phrase. It is part of the verb.

Also "Christmas shopping" uses "Christmas" as an attributive noun (which are very common in English) to modify th the noun "shopping. It may be possible to work backwards and form "He Christmas shops", but that would be odd. And then I would parse it as a compound verb, not "adverb+verb". You couldn't, for example say: "Christmas he shops", or "He shops in London Christmas". If Christmas was an adverb, both of those could be correct.

So generally nouns don't get used as adverbs. There are some cases in which a noun is used attributively with an -ing word (such as "bird-watching") and it might be possible to form a compound verb (From karate-fighting to "he karate-fights") but this doesn't mean that the noun is acting as an adverb.

This doesn't prevent some words being both nouns and adverbs. For example

He will shop in London tomorrow. (tomorrow is an adverb)

Tomorrow is another day. (tomorrow is a noun)

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Is it common in English?

They are fairly common. By that, I mean if you use such terms, you won't get a lot of raised eyebrows.

Are there more examples?

Collins lists "break dancing" (with a space) as a noun. It also has it without the space. Collins also lists "Christmas shopping" as a noun.

Then there are these: bird-watching, whale watching, binge drinking, binge eating, skinny-dipping

Note that the terminology or how you identify the modifier will depend on how you use the compound words in a sentence.

For example, in

"They are Christmas shopping" and "I am bird watching right now"

both "Christmas" and "bird" are acting as adverbs modifying the verbs "shopping" and "watching" - these are present participles.

However, in

"Are you done with you Christmas shopping" and "I love bird watching"

both "Christmas shopping" and "bird watching" are nouns.

In "shopping is fun"and "I enjoy shopping", "shopping" is a gerund. See Is “shopping” a noun, verb or a gerund?

I think context is essential to understand what these sets of words are working as.

Note that I am not certain that this holds true for every example, as EddieKal mentions in their comment.

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  • Yeah, but aren't they a noun adjective? Not adverb. – Kentaro Nov 16 '19 at 0:58
  • @Kentaro I agree. I would call bird, Christmas attributive nouns in bird-watching and Christmas shopping. – Eddie Kal Nov 16 '19 at 1:03
  • @EddieKal If we say "They are Christmas shopping" then "Christmas" is acting as an adverb modifying the present participle "shopping". But if we say "Are you done with you Christmas shopping" then the whole thing is a noun. That is my understanding. Is that right? In "I am bird watching right now" "bird" is acting as an adverb to the verb "watching", no? But in "I love bird watching" that whole thing is a noun. – AIQ Nov 16 '19 at 1:12
  • @AIQ That is indeed where the line gets blurry. I am fairly certain this has been touched on in books such as CGEL and discussed on ELL and/or ELU, but I haven't put in the effort to find previous discussions. I would take "Christmas shopping" and "bird watching" as compound words, with Christmas and bird taking up attributive roles as nouns in their respective compound words. This is just my personal take on it. – Eddie Kal Nov 16 '19 at 1:20
  • If we consider other compound verbs, say, babysit, house-hunt, brainwash, baby-proof/waterproof, all of them share the N + V structure in common. I can't come to the party. I am babysitting. Is baby really an adverbial modifier that tells us how I am sitting? – Eddie Kal Nov 16 '19 at 1:28

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