The day before yesterday: using time expressions

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by Liz Walter

We all need to talk about when things happened or when things will happen. There are lots of ways of doing this and learners often make mistakes with some of the most basic ones.

Remember that we use for in front of a period of time (e.g. a week, a few minutes), and since before a specific point in time (e.g. 2017, last summer):

He worked there for many years.

He’s been working there since 2018.

We use last to talk about a period before the present one and next to talk about a period after the present one. Be careful when you use next with a day of the week, as there is potential for confusion. If it is Wednesday now, and you talk about ‘next Friday’, you should specify whether you mean the Friday in two days’ time or in nine days’ time. If it is nine days, we might say a week on Friday instead:

I saw her last week.

I’m going to see her next week.

My appointment is a week on Thursday.

We often use before and after to talk about time periods. For instance, we say the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow. Similarly, we might say the week before last or the year after next.

To talk about a time that is far enough in the past for things to be quite different from today, we use phrases like in those days, back then, or in the old days. Slightly more informally, we might say back in the day, especially to introduce a pleasant memory:

In those days the city was much smaller than it is now.

Back in the day, we used to play football after work.

By contrast, to talk about the present time, we can use words like nowadays, currently or these days:

Nowadays, most people have smartphones.

Dental treatment is much better these days.

We often use the adjectives recent and distant to indicate how far in the past something is and near or distant to indicate how far in the future it is:

Our committee has made some progress in the recent past.

We know that Mars was very different in the distant past.

We expect to see more building work in the near future.

For talking about a short time ago, we use the adverbs recently and lately. We also say the other day/morning/week etc. to indicate that we are talking about a recent time:

Have you been abroad recently/lately?

I visited Paul the other day.

I will finish with two colourful British English phrases – since the year dot and for donkey’s years – that describe things that have been happening for a very long time:

They’ve had that sofa since the year dot.

I’ve known Emily for donkey’s years.

I hope these words and phrases are useful and that you will be able to use them in the near future!

12 thoughts on “The day before yesterday: using time expressions

  1. I was born and grew up in the USA. I have not lived there for many years, so maybe American English has changed in this respect, but I never heard a sentence like “My appointment is a week on Thursday.” I would not understand it. I would probably say, “My appointment is on Thursday next week.”

      1. Liz Walter

        That’s interesting. Maybe ‘A week on Friday’ is just British. These very small, everyday terms do tend to be the ones with differences.

    1. Liz Walter

      I’ve not heard ‘from’ used in this way in British English, Richard, though Shalom’s comment suggests there may be a UK/US difference. Where are you from?

      1. Hi,

        I propose to use ‘coming’ for referring to a day in the present week and ‘next’ for a day in the week that comes right after the present one.

        For example, if it is Wednesday today, ‘coming Friday’ means the day in two days’ time; ‘next Friday’ means the day in nine days’ time.

        Have you a say, Liz?

  2. Musti

    Very useful, thank you Liz !
    I wonder how we should express the postponements or advancements with a certain period. E.g., if we have already set a meeting next Wednesday at 14h00, and we would like to change to scheduled time to 16h00. What verbs and/or prepositions could we use ? Postpone, advance, move it forward, pust it back to…
    And, what if we would like to change it to 12h00 ?

    1. Liz Walter

      Yes, postpone is common in this context. I think ‘bring forward’ would sound more natural than ‘advance’. Move it forward and put it back are also good. ‘Rearrange’ would be a good general word to use.

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