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勢い地面に背中を打ちつけ、彼は顔をしかめた。

According to dictionaries, 勢い is a noun for momentum, force. In this sentence, isn't it used like an adverb to say that he knocked him on the ground with force?

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This is indeed an uncommon adverbial usage of 勢い, but it means something different from what you are thinking:

勢い

Adverb
4. naturally; necessarily

勢い

[副]その時のなりゆきで。必然的に。

So what is the previous sentence? Does "naturally" make sense?

"Hit with force" would have been 勢いよく打ち付けた, 勢いをつけて打ち付けた, etc.

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  • I did see that definition, but "naturally, necessarily" is a bit odd in the context. It still works, but I guess the translation is more "with the momentum" than "naturally"? That would make more sense.
    – Simon
    Jul 1 at 0:36
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    @Simon The adverbial 勢い should be etymologically "because of such a momentum", so it tends to be used when there is a "momentum" (physically or psychologically). The go-to translation is "naturally", but I can't say if your case is exceptional without seeing the actual previous sentence.
    – naruto
    Jul 1 at 1:40
  • I remember seeing a discussion somewhere (I think on this site) that some intensifiers like すごい can be used adverbially without conjugation, could this be an example of a similar phenomenon? Jul 3 at 1:09
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    @IgorSkochinsky 勢い is not an (i-)adjective, so I don't think that's related.
    – naruto
    Jul 4 at 7:13

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