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I came across with the following sentence:

受験勉強で疲弊した深夜、グレープフルーツのへそに親指を挿入した瞬間、胸からぷしゅっと黄色の粒子が噴出した。

I was doubtful about how the sentences separated by commas were related to each other, so I asked a Japanese person to help me out. She said the nouns 深夜 and 瞬間 were both functioning as adverbs. She also added that the particle に could be placed after these two nouns and the meaning would be the same, even though it would make it more casual instead of the current literary version.

However, I still have a question. If these nouns are actually working as adverbs, that is, temporal nouns, what verb specifically were they actually modifying? After trying to answer it for myself, I ended up with three possibilities, but I can't say which is correct.

  1. They are modifying the next verb. 挿入する for 深夜, and 噴出する for 瞬間.
  2. Both are modifying the last verb, 噴出する.
  3. They are actually independent sentences, that is, the 深夜's sentence is a sentence separated from the remaining and the same applies to 瞬間. And if that's the case, how could they be adverbs?

This sentence structure seems to be quite frequent, and I always get confused with it.

Note that this question about Adverbial Nouns and Temporal Nouns has nothing to do with mine.

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To me it looks like there are two adverbial clauses, both "modifying" the final verb 噴出した by specifying when that act happened. So the verb phrases that come before 深夜 and 瞬間 are just modifying the respective temporal noun, turning each comma separated section into a clause.

[受験勉強で疲弊した深夜]、[グレープフルーツのへそに親指を挿入した瞬間]、胸からぷしゅっと黄色の粒子が噴出した。

Notice that each bracketed section is not a sentence in itself as it doesn't end in a verb, copula, etc. They are simply nouns with descriptors attached. That rules out #3. As for the difference between 1 and 2, since these are all describing essentially one moment - when yellow particles spurt out of a grapefruit - I guess the sentence may also be broken up as:

{[受験勉強で疲弊した深夜]、グレープフルーツのへそに親指を挿入した瞬間}、胸からぷしゅっと黄色の粒子が噴出した。

But to me those seem like they have essentially the same meaning, but the first breakdown seems more natural to me due to the parallel structure between the two clauses.

A simpler example of this same structure may be something like:

昨日、りんごを食べました」 

Both nouns are describing when the eating happened. They are acting as adverbs by modifying the last verb.

  • Wow! Really nice answer, thank you very much!!! You said "Notice that each bracketed section is not a sentence in itself as it doesn't end in a verb, copula, etc.", so once 疲弊する and 挿入する work like "adjectives" (I don't know the proper grammar word), that is the reason why they're two (adverbial) sentences that connects with the verb 噴出する, right????? – BIG-95 May 31 at 22:18
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    Yes, when the short form of verbs are placed in front of nouns they typically act as modifiers, in this case adding more specificity to the temporal adverbs. I would still hesitate to call them adverbial sentences because they cannot really stand on their own. Clause or phrase would be a better word to describe them – katatahito Jun 2 at 23:40
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    @katahiro thank you very much!! Specificity... that's the word to describe this case! :D Oh, by the way, you right. I have to review my English grammar studies, because I always get confused with those terms. Anyway, again, thank you for helping me! – BIG-95 Jun 3 at 22:17

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