I'm wondering about the difference between adverbs, adverbial nouns, and temporal nouns.*

I know that adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They usually tell amount, weight, time, distance, etc.

So here are my questions:

  1. Does that mean that all temporal nouns are also adverbial nouns? I know that the other direction is not true.

  2. Also, I'm under the impression that adverbs can't be the topic of a Japanese sentence, but adverbial nouns and temporal nouns can. Is this correct?

*Terminology (as used by edict/jmdict):

  • temporal noun (n-t): 時相名詞 (list)
  • adverbial noun (n-adv, formerly adv-n): 副詞的名詞 (list)
  • adverb (adv): 副詞 (list)
  • 2
    Hello and welcome to Japanese.SE! This question would be a lot easier to understand if you gave some examples (especially since the English terminology for Japanese grammar varies from book to book). – Earthliŋ Mar 23 '15 at 11:01
  • Thanks Earthliŋ! Sorry I wasn't more specific. I'm talking about words like 今回、本日、夕べ、今月、etc. According to EDICT, they are both temporal and adverbial nouns. – newyorkaru Mar 23 '15 at 12:50
  • Some words marked as temporal noun by edict, but not as adverbial noun: 今日, 明日, 今朝, 秋, 時代. Sounds as if it's using temporal noun for any noun that expresses some time? But it also marks 全部 as a temporal noun... well, edict isn't perfect, but who knows... – blutorange Mar 23 '15 at 18:05
  • It seems the term 時相名詞 is used by jumandic (dictionary for morphological parsers). Here's the only explanation I could find: 「EDRは時詞とぃう名前で、JUMANは時相名詞という名前で、副詞としても振舞い得る名詞を分類している。しかしこのような分類は、名詞か副詞のどちらかであるという曖昧性の表現の仕方としては変則的である。」 Ie, you can use 今年 like a noun (今年の目標) or adverbially (今年起きた事件). I suppose this classification is probably irrelevant if you only want to learn the language... – blutorange Mar 23 '15 at 18:33
  • Thank you very much for your help blutorange. I didn't know I could look up specific parts of speech that way on jisho.org It's very helpful! – newyorkaru Mar 25 '15 at 3:53


First of all some remarks on the terminology used.

Adverb (副詞) is the usual definition as it can be found in dictionaries. The other two words require some more thought.

It seems 時相名詞 is a technical term used by jumandic, a dictionary for morphological parsers. Here's the only insight I could find:


Thus: temporal noun = a noun that can be used adverbially. You can use a word such as 今年 like a noun or adverbially:

  • 今年の目標
  • 今年起きた事件

Often these are nouns related to time (hence the name), but not necessarily. 全部 is classified as a temporal noun as well. However, I would judge this to be a classification error, considering the name and that most of them are indeed related to time.

Furthermore, this classification might be necessary in the context of parsing Japanese, but I suppose it is probably irrelevant if you only want to learn the language. Also, the paper I linked mentions that this classification might not be the best.

Next, 副詞的名詞 is used by jumandic too. It's also used on the net and in papers in the context of Japanese and other languages. In ipadic this is called 副詞可能. It refers to nouns (or words originating from a noun) that can be used adverbially such as ところ, ため, ぐらい. For example:


(from the noun 位【くらい】, from 座【くら】居【い】る)

In this paper there is a remark on adverbial nouns:


This seems to suggest that an adverbial noun must admit the possibility to accept modifiers (adjectives, relative clauses &c.), such as in the above example or this:

  • 住所等を変更した場合すぐにお知らせください
  • 肝炎ウイルスは多くの場合、 感染しても自覚症状が無く本人が気がつかない。

Question 1

Are all temporal nouns also adverbial nouns?

First of all, it should be obvious that not all adverbial nouns are temporal. As for the other direction, most temporal nouns appear to be adverbial nouns too, namely 445/592(75%) of them. Those that are alo adverbial can be modified:

  • 楽しい毎日
  • ほとんどまた何も見えない未明の視界

However, here are some words marked only as temporal noun in jmdict:


Referring to the definitions given above, here the explanation for this would seem to be that while 今日【きょう】 or これから can be used adverbially in a sentence, you cannot modify it usually.



On the other hand, 昨日【きのう】 is marked as both temporal and adverbial noun in edict/jmdict. If we look it up directly in jumandic, we find:


Thus my conclusion is that the tagging of 昨日【きのう】 is a mistake in edict/jmdict.

Question 2

Is it true that adverbs can't be the topic of a Japanese sentence; but adverbial nouns and temporal nouns can be?

I'm going to assume that by can be the topic you mean can be marked with the focus/topic particle は. Also, any word can be used with は when making a comment about that word in the form 「甲」は乙 (mentioning rather than using it, eg. 恰【あたか】もはかたい表現), so I will exclude this usage from the following discussion.

First temporal and adverbial nouns. This is easily answered by providing some examples. Many words can be topicalized:

  • 毎月第2火曜日temporal, adverbialは庁舎周辺のごみ拾いをしましょう。
  • 3月10日未明temporal, adverbialは敗戦の序章・東京大空襲の日
  • 今日temporal天気がいいですね。
  • 父が原稿を書いている最中adverbialは、だれが話しかけても返事がない。

Now let us turn to adverbs. Some words marked as adverb in edict/jmdict include:


Some of these are not only marked as adverb, but also as (na/no-)adjective &c., which might explain why they can be used with the focus particle は. For example:


So let us consider a word marked as adverb only: いくつ, たびたび, とても, and もし.

It's true that usually you wouldn't use them as the topic of the sentence or with the particle は. However, language is flexible and people use it to fit their needs. Often, whether something is possible or not is only a function of how hard you're looking. Consider the following sentences:


この12という数字には色んな意味が込められてて、そのうちの幾つは冒頭でも話したけど、その他にもいくつかあって、 例えば16進数の「C」は10進数で12。 そして時計の針は1から12。





from 徳田秋声全集 第三期 長篇小説, ISBN 4-8406-9693-4


This is the best I can come up with.


But it's borderline mentioning the word.




(from 全国ご古語辞典 第三版 旺文社 2003)

In edict/jmdict, these words are marked only as adverb. I'll leave it to you to decide whether they are adverbs in the above sentences. The point is, some of them can be used with は.

Other adverbs such as のんびり or あたかも are extremely rare with the particle は, so we can't make a general statement that they could or couldn't be used with は.


  • most temporal nouns are adverbial nouns
  • some adverbs can be used with the particle は, but it depends upon the word and isn't too common
  • these classifications are not important unless you're a linguist or programmer
| improve this answer | |
  • I can't thank you enough blutorange! I do pay attention to parts of speech when I learn new words and phrases, so this is helpful. I appreciate the effort you put in to answering me. – newyorkaru Apr 6 '15 at 4:18
  • 2
    You're welcome. I'm glad if I could help and I hope this is helpful for other people too. And thanks for asking the question, I like it when I can do some research and learn something new. – blutorange Apr 6 '15 at 6:24
  • A true gold mine to this day. Cheers! – DBrown Apr 15 at 1:20

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