In modern English, certain (but not, or not yet, all) 'time-interval-in-which-event-occurs' adjuncts can be constructed apparently (1) without temporal prepositions or case inflections (as in I received the money this morning/yesterday/last Friday/this week/last month/this summer/this year, etc.). The same construction occurs, although not exactly in all the same cases, in modern Spanish, several other western IE languages, and Mandarin.

How common this construction is in Human Language, in general, I do not know, though. Could somebody here give me examples of languages - preferably IE ones, since I know virtually nothing about other language families - in which this 'bare NP adverbial' construction is also possible, and, especially, of languages, if any, in which it is not? (2)

Thank you.

(1) Please note my 'apparently': I am not saying that English or Spanish 'bare' NP time adjuncts are really 'bare' (i.e., lacking even 'covert' prepositions, phonetically null K(ase)-assigning functional heads,'inherent', lexically-conditioned Case-features, or whatever structural devices eventually account for their function and interpretation); all I meant to say is that at PF they seem to be mere uninflected NP's/DP's, rather than PP's, K(ase)P's, or Case-inflected NP's/DP's, and what I wanted to know is which other languages have this surface property and which, if any, do not. I know, though, that the question might be undecidable (for reasons briefly explained in note (2) below).

(2) Needless to say, the construction will be trivially impossible, by definition, in any language in which all 'bare NP' time adjuncts must carry overt case inflections (accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental,...), as might well be the case in German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Finnish,...Latin (but I am not sure whether, in such languages, literally all 'bare NP' adjuncts must be overtly inflected; maybe some needn't be). [Note that, at bottom, this uncertainty may turn into a theoretical issue, instead of a factual one, because the possibility cannot be discarded that even apparently uninflected NP's should after all covertly carry 'abstract' Case (e.g., whichever the 'default' Case may be in the corresponding language, say 'objective', in English). What's more, of course really 'bare' (here: prepositionless and caseless) NP's will be impossible on theoretical grounds if the 'Case Filter' is a correct principle of Human Language and applies to all NP's. However, even if it is, whether it must apply to all NP's, including (2nd. order) NP predicates, instead of just to argument NP's is unclear to me]. Such issues might make my question unanswerable, and I am ready to delete it if so considered, but my original intention was to leave them aside and just find out what other languages have 'bare NP' time adjuncts that seem caseless at 'surface structure/PF' and which, if any, prohibit them (possibly disregarding German, Polish, etc., if their 'bare NP' adverbials do, in fact, invariably require case-marked NP's, which, as I said, I do not know).

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    They are exceedingly common, although not everyone will recognize them as "correct" because they are not fully outfitted with the appropriate preposition, case ending, or clitic. But leaving off the predictable parts is the basis for all language shortenings.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 16:25
  • Thanks jlawler. I agree that Economy probably is behind what is happening in English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. in this area, but the problem with such explanations is that they do not generalize. In 'I was born in Britain', 'in' is just as predictable and dispensable in that sense, but we cannot omit it. At bottom, we cannot really dispense with functors that turn 'objects' like 'this week' into (1-place) 'functions' (= temporal PREDICATES of events). We can omit them at PF, but we must still compute them, whatever they are, in syntax-semantics, or the meaning of sentences will be inexplicable.
    – user6814
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:17
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    You're quite right. "Economy" is clearly important, but there are many many deviations and variations. Rather like measuring the coastline of Britain; the details swamp the generalization.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:58
  • Since frequency and economy are known to interact, perhaps this is a case of such an interaction? All the deictic expressions you mentioned in the OP are quite 'general' are likely to have high frequency, whereas 'in Britain' (or 'in 1945', etc.) are less so. Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 18:43

3 Answers 3


As for Polish, the closest thing to what you're looking for are perhaps expressions indicating time intervals:

 Pracowałem       tam   dwa lata. 
 I worked (masc.) there two years
 “I worked there for two years”

It is also possible to use the preposition przez here, which in this context is equivalent to English for:

Pracowałem       tam   przez dwa lata.
I worked (masc.) there for   two years

However, based on your comment, I need to conclude that the adverbial is actually inflected. It so happens that nominative and accusative often have the same form in Polish (both nominative and accusative of “two years” is dwa lata) and that confused me a bit. But this example makes it clear:

Byłem  tam   (przez) jedną dobę.
I was  there  for    one   24-hour period of one day and one night
masc.                acc.  acc.
“I was there for one day and one night”

The word doba is feminine, and we can see that it is accusative (jedną dobę) and not nominative (jedna doba). “*Byłem tam jedna doba” is clearly ungrammatical.

So my updated conclusion is that, as far as I can tell, Polish doesn't have the bare NP temporal adverbials you're looking for.

  • In that example, 'dwa lata' is, properly, a 'duration' adjunct, not exactly what I wanted, but thank you, anyway. What makes me doubt whether 'dwa lata' is really uninflected is that adding 'przez', a P that must assign an oblique case to its complement, does not change the form of the NP. That suggests that 'dwa lata' IS case-inflected in BOTH examples and that either it has the same case in both and P is just unpronounced in the 1st example, or, if the NP requires different cases when on its own and after 'przez', this is an instance of case syncretism. Does that make sense to you?
    – user6814
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 15:55
  • @Sibutlasi Thanks for your comment, you're absolutely right. I updated my answer.
    – michau
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:26
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    I believe this is a good example showing how synchronic typology needs to be always taken cum grano salis. AFAIK the equivalent English forms have exactly the same origin, i.e. case inflected nouns but with the endings syncretism and general loss of inflections, they turned to "bare NP".
    – Eleshar
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 21:36

It is definitely possible in German, too, for some time intervals:

Ich war 1998 in Paris.

Note that years are in German in this category, the use of "in 1998" is considered an Anglicism.

P.S. I ran some part-of-speech taggers (using the CLARIN-D service WebLicht on the following two sentences

Er war 1998 in Paris. Sie war zweitausendeins in Berlin.

and they all give CARD (Cardinal number, numeral) as tag for "1998". Majority vote is for CARD on "zweitausendeins", too, with one tagger opting for ADV (Adverb) here, one for NN (Noun) and another one opting for NE (named entity). So the majority of taggers doesn't think it is a "caseless noun".

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    OP specifies " without temporal prepositions or case inflections". I think the inflections on letzt-, dies- would disqualify these. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 11:33
  • @StoneyB. Correct. But "heute, morgen, gestern" are indeed uninflected adverbs.
    – fdb
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 11:59
  • @fdb But these adverbs are not bare NPs (which the OP asked for). Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 12:59
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    Morgen would qualify, too: it is only orthographically distinguished from the noun. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 13:19
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    @jknappen. Thank you! I suppose 'neunzehnhundertachtundneunzig' might qualify as an (apparently) uninflected 'bare NP' adjunct in 'Ich war 1998 in Paris'. Even if it does not contain a head noun, it definitely refers to a year and I presume it could perfectly well function as a subject argument in a sentence like '1998 war das glücklichste Jahr meines Lebens' couldn´t it? Thanks, also, for the information that 'in 1998' is an Anglicism; I learnt German decades ago, but until now I was not aware of the fact that inserting 'in' before numerals like '1998' was not really German!
    – user6814
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 13:48

I don't speak Mandarin so can't really comment on this, but according to Shi (2000:393) Mandarin has this feature, too:

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Shi, Dinxu. 2000. Topic and topic-comment constructions in Mandarin Chinese. Language, pp.383-408.

Some more on the analysis of bare NP adverbials, but primarily focussing on English:

  • That example is a variation of a classic example from Li and Thompson, though the temporal phrase a topic, so I'm not sure if it counts. However, there are examples where the temporal phrase isn't a topic, e.g. Wo zuotian zai Ling.SE peng dao lemontree ('I bumped into lemontree on Ling.SE yesterday'). (Cf. Old Chinese, where this is, AFAIK, impossible - bare temporal phrases/clauses must be topics if they modify the main clause.) Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 11:30
  • @lemontree Mandarin certainly has the construction, as I said. I am not sure, though, whether 'na4chang3huo3' counts as a 'bare NP' TIME adjunct; it looks like a Topic. The problem I see is that it does NOT contain a semantically time-related N head. Of course, a 'fire' denotes an event ('fire' admits temporal complements) and events are inherently coextensive with time intervals, which perhaps allows Mandarin eventive N's to 'measure' time and so satisfy the condition on 'bare NP' time adjuncts. Example (30b), not included, could tell us more. (Kobayashi's paper was new to me, thank you!).
    – user6814
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:28
  • The paper is about topic/topic-comment structures in Chinese, so it does seem to have something to do with whether the NP is a topic. But as I said, I know practically nothing about Chinese and could only copy from what is says in the text, so I suggest you simply taking a look into it on your own. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:47
  • @WavesWashSands Yes, 'zuo2tian1' clearly shows that Mandarin has 'bare' NP time adjuncts, as I said. Whether such adjuncts are also topicalized or appear in their current canonical position between the subject and the extended VP does not matter for current purposes. What I did not know, however, was that in Old Chinese 'bare' NP time adjuncts like 'zuótian1' could NOT occur where they do now... Where would 'zuo2tian1' occur, then, in Old Chinese, when it was NOT the topic of the sentence? I assume it would still precede other adjuncts (and c-command them from the top of the VP), wouldn´t it?
    – user6814
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:51
  • @Sibutlasi I don't think I've ever seen a temporal NP adjunct anywhere other than topic. It's a case of inherent topic, rather than topicalisation. If these NPs appear anywhere else, it would be in places like possessor, object, complement of a preposition in an oblique argument, etc. - not modifying the entire clause. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:25

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