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He arrived moments later.

Here moments is noun and clearly later must be adverb, then how is it modifying the noun?

  • Did you look up later in the dictionary? What part of speech does it say later is? – stangdon Jan 5 '16 at 18:25
  • When you see a sentence, "I arrived moments/a few minutes/a few hours/a few days ago", what part of speech you don't understand? – user24743 Jan 5 '16 at 18:43
  • I have clearly stated my question as you can see @Rathony – Neel Jan 5 '16 at 18:45
  • I think you need to read more English sentences with adverbs and adverbial phrases and noun phrases. What makes you think later modifies moments? Later as an adverb should modify a verb because there is no adjective after later to modify. – user24743 Jan 5 '16 at 18:49
  • @Rathony I was just speculating. I don't understand the reason behind your hostile attitude against me at all. – Neel Jan 5 '16 at 18:55
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Actually, you've got it backward: moments modifies later.

How much later? —moments later.

More commonly we see expressions like moments (CGEL calls them measure phrase modifiers) with a specific quantifier—some moments later, three hours later ; the bare plural noun leaves the exact quantity vague but in effect provides a scale by which the lateness may be measured.

This illustrates an important point: part-of-speech (or as we now say, 'word class') has only limited usefulness for describing how a particular word is used in a particular context. We are taught when we're just beginning grammatical analysis that words 'belong' in a particular category which dictates how they can be used; but eventually we reach a point where the categories break down. I'm sure you're familiar with "verbs" being used as "nouns" (Playing video games is fun) "nouns" being used as "adjectives" (street corner, office manager) and "adjectives" being used as "verbs" (First you have to brown the meat); here you have a noun used as an adverb. English does this sort of thing all the time.

  • You left me more confused! how can noun modify adverb? Thanks – Neel Jan 5 '16 at 18:36
  • @Debanil I've added a paragraph. – StoneyB Jan 5 '16 at 18:54
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    @Debanil - It works because "moments" is a noun, but it's quantifying an amount. Not just later, but this much later. It's not that "a noun modifies an adverb", exactly, but the entire thing ("moments later") forms an adverbial phrase. – stangdon Jan 5 '16 at 19:46
  • Really? Mr Stoney. You're my most revered poster on here, I can't believe you just said a noun used as an adverb .... :( – Araucaria Jan 5 '16 at 23:35

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