I have seen in some cases prepositions are omitted before some noun phrases. And it's explained that those phrases are actually an adverb phrases. But I know a simple thing. If the head of the phrase is a noun, it's a noun phrase. If the head of the phrase is an adverb it is an adverb phrase.

For example -

  1. Look both ways before crossing the road. [both ways is a noun phrase, where the head is ways, but still there is no preposition.]

  2. He approached me in a friendly way. [a friendly way is a noun phrase, where the head is way, but as expected unlike sentence #1 it's preceded by the preposition in. And I have never seen this phrase is used without a preposition. I believe dropping the preposition is wrong, according to the grammar.]

  3. She made a pickle a different way from her mother. [a different way is a noun phrase, where the head is way, but strangely there is no preposition before it. But I have seen examples of a different way used both with prepositions and without prepositions. I think the preposition here is optional.]

Now from these example sentences I have tried to demonstrate my problem/confusing area. My question is -

1. When a noun phrase is used as an adverb phrase?

2. When before a noun phrase the placement of preposition is obligatory (like sentence #2)? And where it's optional (like sentence #3)? And where placing the preposition is wrong (like sentence #1)?

  • 1
    Way #1 = a path or direction. Way #2 = manner. When it means "manner" use the preposition (it won't be incorrect even if it is not necessary). When it is directional, don't use a preposition. He looked each way before crossing the street. She sings the song (in) a different way. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '15 at 12:49
  • @TRomano Well, but it's not true for a friendly way, I am very sure dropping a preposition before that phrase is incorrect. Not only that I have never seen that phrase with friendly used without a preposition. – Man_From_India Mar 16 '15 at 12:54
  • What's not true? I said to use the preposition when "way" means "manner". He spoke to the stranger in a friendly way. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '15 at 12:56
  • Perhaps you need this clarification: ... even if it is not always necessary..."? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '15 at 12:58
  • @TRomano hmm..sorry for not being clear. Let me be clear. Yes way is a noun where it means manner. When we form NP like a friendly way or a different way, way means manner. But the thing is we can write He did it (in) a different way, but not He approached me a friendly way. – Man_From_India Mar 16 '15 at 12:59

The problem is that without a preposition after an object pronoun, such as me above, it can sound like you might be trying to express an indirect or second object for the verb in question - especially if a noun is following. If an adverb or adjective follows, there is no confusion. Verbs that take indirect objects generally mean "to give" so the reader/listener may try to twist the meaning of what you say toward that.

She kicked me hard <- Hard is an modifier, no confusion

She kicked me to the curb <- "To" makes this clear, no confusion.

She kicked me the curb <- Sounds like you're saying she physically kicked a curb towards you.

He approached me a friendly way <- Sounds like you might be trying to say in a weird way that you were brought over or towards to "a friendly way" - whatever is meant by that.

If a noun is in between, it's at least somewhat OK - I would recommend using the preposition for maximum clarity.

She made me a pickle [in] a different way

  • 1
    Not much what I was expecting. Well, still good input. But the thing is I already know these, please refer to those comments below the question for understanding what exactly I am looking for :-) thanks... – Man_From_India Mar 16 '15 at 14:41
  • "an modifier".. was that a typo? – 5A7335H Oct 16 '15 at 7:02

When is a noun phrase an adverb phrase?

Let us begin by addressing your first question. The descriptor noun phrase refers, per Wikipedia, to "a phrase which has a noun (or indefinite pronoun) as its head word, or which performs the same grammatical function as such a phrase." Similarly, Merriam Webster tells us that a noun phrase is "formed by a noun and all its modifiers and determiners," or "any syntactic element...with a noun's function (as the subject of a verb or the object of a verb or preposition."

Now, a head word is the word that determines the syntactic role (part of speech) played by the phrase. Thus the general usage defines a noun phrase by its function: if it acts like a noun, it is a noun phrase. Note that Merriam-Webster's first definition instead defines a noun phrase as simply having a noun.

On the other hand, what does Wikipedia have to say about adverbial phrases?

"An adverbial phrase is a group of two or more words operating adverbially, meaning that their syntactic function is to modify a verb, an adjective, or an adverb."

Note that, as is generally the case with a noun phrase, an adverbial phrase is solely defined by its role. Consider the following sentences.

The Democatic debate is today.

We shall have a new president in two years.

I'll be so relieved when the election is over.

We have three types of modifier here. The first is simply an adverb. The second is an adverb phrase. The third is an adverb phrase that happens to be an entire clause, or an adverbial clause. Observe that the adverb phrase contains a preposition, an adjective, and a noun: no adverb in sight. Indeed, many if not most adverb phrases are like this. Containing an adverb is not enough to make something an adverbial phrase: the whole phrase must function as an adverb, modifying an adjective, a verb, or another adverb.

So, what is the gist of the previous discussion? Generally, both noun and verb phrases are defined by function. Under this definition, the answer to "When is a noun phrase used as an adverb phrase?" is never. However, going by Merriam-Webster's first definition, which is more relevant to your question, the answer is whenever it modifies an adjective, verb, or adverb.

When is it necessary to place a preposition before a noun phrase used as an adverb?

Unfortunately, as in many such cases, it is unlikely that one rule prescribes when one should use or avoid prepositions in adverbial phrases.

Distance between the verb and the adverb phrase might be one factor:

She made the pickle a different way.

This sentence is unambiguous and fairly natural.

She made the pickle, with peppercorns and dill, sealed in an enormous jar, a different way.

This sentence is ambiguous, because "a different way" could either refer to "with peppercorns and dill, sealed in an enormous jar" or to something else entirely. It also sounds awkward. However, if we write

She made the pickle, with peppercorns and dill, sealed in an enormous jar, in a different way.

This is unambiguous (although the meaning would change if the adverb phrase were placed directly after "pickle." Also, "in a different manner" would probably be better here, but that is mostly a vocabulary choice.

Similarly, either "in a friendly way" or "a friendly way" would be appropriate in your second sentence. The use of a preposition is not really obligatory. However, if we separate "approach" and "friendly way" far apart, the sentence becomes clumsy and requires a preposition to avoid ambiguity.

A second factor is whether the noun phrase can actually stand alone as a noun. Consider your "both ways" example. This sentence makes no sense, at least in my dialect:

Look to both ways before you cross the road.

Similarly with

Look to up before you walk near that building under construction.


Look at around when you cross the street.

The preposition is effectively prohibited in these cases, because it gives the impression that the adverb or adverb phrase could stand alone as a noun, which is not the case. Essentially, "both ways" and similar phrases have been used so long that they have become one adverb in people's minds, thus the inappropriateness of a preposition.

This is probably the most important "rule." When words have become associated in an frequently used adverbial noun phrase, it seems extremely awkward to add a preposition: "both ways," "this way," "the hard way." In fact, many such phrases have become so common that they arguably should be classified as compound adverbs, not noun phrases. As Khan noted in a comment, The Free Dictionary classifies "both ways" as an adverb (or occasional adjective), as indeed does Dictionary.com.

You will rarely encounter someone who says: "Do you want to do this in the easy way, or in the hard way?"

But when such an association does not exist, a preposition is generally required. This is acceptable.

They arrived with an incredible noise.

This is not:

They arrived an incredible noise.

In fact, it may be that the ability to stand alone as a noun is the central factor here. What leads to awkwardness in this cases seems to be ambiguity. There is no chance of confusion when someone arrives "a confusing way." There is if someone arrives "a confusing fashion."

"Both ways," " a confusing way": these are not often seen out of their common role as adverb phrases. By contrast, "confusing fashion" is.

Another issue is which preposition is being elided (if indeed one is). "With" can rarely be omitted, as one of the previous examples showed, while "in" often can be

However, all these are merely heuristics. As other answerers have noted, there is not one hard-and-fast rule, or indeed set of rules, for determining when a preposition is required, and when it is not.

  • You seems to have a debilitating grammar illness, one symptom of which is using the terms adverbial phrase and adverb phrase interchangably. – Araucaria Oct 15 '15 at 13:04
  • Aracauria, what gives? – Obie 2.0 Oct 16 '15 at 3:19
  • With respect, the interchangeable usage is well-attested. See, e.g. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/adverb_phrase. – Obie 2.0 Oct 16 '15 at 3:25
  • Sorry, that was a bit rude. – Obie 2.0 Oct 16 '15 at 4:21
  • I understand that you would rather avoid the term "adverbial," referring instead to "adjuncts." Incidentally, your suggestion that "adverbial" be restricted to referring to adjuncts is, I think, a rule that I mostly followed in my answer. I suspect, based on your previous discourse on this topic, that you would prefer that I use "noun phrase" and similar words to refer only to the nature of the head word, not syntactic function. Unfortunately, "noun phrase" is used in the other sense, shall we say, rather frequently. – Obie 2.0 Oct 16 '15 at 5:02

I wanted to comment on your example (3). You say:

She made a pickle a different way from her mother. [a different way is a noun phrase, where the head is way, but strangely there is no preposition before it. But I have seen examples of a different way used both with prepositions and without prepositions. I think the preposition here is optional.]

As an educated native speaker of American English, I find "She made a pickle a different way" to be unidiomatic. It sounds wrong. Americans and British speakers would say "She makes pickles differently from her mother" or "She makes pickles in a different way."

A preposition is usually correct before "way" where "way" means "manner." Idiomatically often the preposition is skipped. In "He did it the hard way," the preposition would actually seem wrong because it is so un-idiomatic, but in most cases where the preposition is commonly skipped, as in "He did it the same way," that is considered a good shorthand way of saying "He did it in the same way."


Look down both ways before crossing.
Look to both ways before crossing.
Look at both ways before crossing.

Prepositions don't seem forbidden in this case.  Awkward, perhaps, and unusual, but not impossible.


He approached me a friendly way.
He approached me a different way.
He approached me that way.

Prepositions don't seem required in this case.  Again, we have varying degrees of unusualness and awkwardness, but these all seem possible.

It looks like "way" has this adverbial use (or licenses a null preposition, if you prefer) regardless of context.

  • the second set of examples is not really valid, I think. There has to be an "in" after me to make the sentences correct. – Mamta D Oct 16 '15 at 3:45
  • None of the "ways" examples work in my idiolect, nor does the first "approached" example. – timothymh Oct 21 '15 at 19:23

You are right, when the function word "way" is used to describe manner or direction the preposition "in" is often omitted in certain positions, i.e. at the end of the sentence or after verbs. I discovered this phenomenon and collected some material to have a closer look at it. Sometimes the word "way" is lacking, too.


  • 1 Idiom: to have the head screwed on right. - Derived from: in the right way.

  • 2 Haramis loved the land as if it were her own child. In a way, it was. - Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Lady of The Trillium, page 2; fantasy. - At the beginning of a sentence no shortening.

  • 3 Nobody in the Royal family knew that Aya's sister worked for the Archimage, and Haramis wanted to keep it that way. - from the same novel, page 7. - Shortened from: in that way. At the end of the sentence the drop of the preposition occurs very often.

  • 4 She just did not want to live this way. Marion Zimmer-Bradley (MZB).-

  • 5 Something wicked this way comes. Fantasy novel by Ray Bradbury. - Sense of "this way": towards us/in our direction.


Adverbials are realized by a number of linguistic structures -

1. She telephoned (just) then. [Adverb Phrase with closed class adverbs as head]

2. She telephoned (very) recently. [Adverb Phrase with open class adverbs as head]

3. She telephoned last week. [Noun Phrase]

4. She telephoned in the evening. [Prepositional Phrase]

5. She telephoned though obviously ill. [Verbless clause]

6. She telephoned while waiting for the plane. [Nonfinite clause]

7. She telephoned hoping for a job. [Nonfinite clause]

8. She telephoned to ask for an interview. [Nonfinite clause]

9. She telephoned angered at the delay. [Nonfinite clause]

10. She telephoned after she had seen the announcement. [Finite clause]

In a survey -

Total number of adverbials - 10981
Realization Type -
I) Prepositional Phrases - 4414
II) Closed class items - 3948
III) Open class adverbs and adverb phrases - 1070
IV) Finite clauses - 980
V) Nonfinite and verbless clauses - 346
VI) Noun phrases - 227

Adverbials are of four types -
i) Adjunct
ii) Subjunct
iii) Disjunct
iv) Conjunct

In all the example sentences I quoted in my question, the bold parts are adjuncts.

11. Look both ways before crossing the road.

The bold part is an obligatory adjunct denoting direction. A directional or special adjunct can be realized by Noun phrase or by prepositional phrases. In this particular example it's Noun phrase. And it can be considered as a direct object to the verb look.

12. He approached me in a friendly way.
13. She made a pickle a different way from her mother.

Both in sentence #12 and #13, the bold part is the adjunct of manner. In sentence #12 it's realized by a prepositional phrase, and in sentence #13 it's realized by a noun phrase.

Now the important question comes when we use a noun phrase and when we use a prepositional phrase.

Not all nouns can be used in this way, for example if we rewrite sentence #13 replacing way with the similar meaning word manner, it's wrong. We have to use a prepositional phrase then.

14. She made a pickle a different manner from her mother. [INCORRECT]

15. She made a pickle in a different manner from her mother. [CORRECT]

In sentence #11, it's wrong to use a preposition phrase there. Generally both ways don't take a preposition to express adjunct of direction. We however can use a prepositional phrase to express adjunct of direction.

Looked at another way.

  • The survey is interesting! It'd be nice if you could add a link. – Damkerng T. Oct 17 '15 at 14:19
  • @DamkerngT. It's taken from A Comprehensive Grammar of English Language. page no. 489 – Man_From_India Oct 17 '15 at 14:21

The noun in question, 'way', can be used in a number of different senses. Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary lists at least twelve, not counting idiomatic expressions.

Many of those senses, such as #2 and #7, contain within them prepositional attributes. The 2nd one contains the idea of 'from' and the 7th contains the idea of 'along'. When these senses are meant by a speaker, dropping the preposition is possible because the word 'way' itself already contains those ideas.

Your distinction between noun phrase and adverbial is not exactly on point. When one restores the missing preposition, turning a plain noun phrase into a prepositional phrase, that prepositional phrase is being used adverbially, i.e., to modify a verb.

Look along the road before crossing (it).

He approached me in the manner of friend.

She made a pickle differently from her mother.

These are undoubtedly prepositional phrases used adverbially, or simple adverbs as in the last case. In the first and third cases this adverbial sense is contained within the word 'way'. In the second case, it is not, the sense is that of a simple mode of acting, so the preposition is required.

Generally, if that subtle prepositional/adverbial sense is not included in your meaning when using that word, 'way', the preposition should be explicitly included, else, it may be omitted. I don't believe there is an explicit official rule.

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