22 May 2020
This week received a question about time expressions from Dara in Cambodia. He asks,
Do you use the phrase "last Tuesday?" If so, what does it mean? Does it mean "on Tuesday last week" or "on Tuesday this week?" I have the same question for "next Tuesday." Thank you. - Dara, Cambodia.
That is a great question. Even native English speakers can misunderstand these expressions. "Last" and "next" are both adjectives. When we use them with a day of the week, their meaning can change depending on the time we are speaking.
"Last" means the most recent. If today is Wednesday, and I tell you,
"I talked with her last Tuesday," you might think I meant I talked with her eight days ago. The reason is if I had talked with her only one day ago, I would have said, "I talked with her yesterday." So, when I say, "I talked with her last Tuesday," I mean the Tuesday of the week before.
Now imagine that today is Thursday or Friday. That means Tuesday is only a few days ago. Here is what I would probably say: "I talked to her on Tuesday."
But now imagine it is Saturday or Sunday, a little further away from the day I talked with her. If I say, "I talked with her last Tuesday" you would probably ask me, "Do you mean on Tuesday of this week?" to make certain of the exact day.
Note that people in different places where English is spoken use these expressions in somewhat different ways. So it is not unusual for native speakers to ask questions when they hear someone using "last" or "next" with a day.
"Next" means "coming after the one that just came or happened." Suppose you get a message by email that says, "The meeting is next Tuesday." Since today is Wednesday, it is clear that the meeting will be in six days. But if you have not been reading your email regularly and you get the message on Monday, you may want to check the date on the message. If you did not look at the date of the email, you would probably think the meeting is in eight days. The reason is that the writer would have said, "The meeting is tomorrow" if it was on Tuesday of the current week.
You can check your understanding. Imagine that today is Friday. You are having a party eight days from now. Which expression is the best to use?*
1. Can you come to my party next Saturday?
2. Can you come to my party on Saturday?
What question do you have about English? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.
I'm Jill Robbins.
*Write your answer in the comments.
Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
previous – adj. earlier in time or order
certain – adj. not having any doubt about something; convinced or sure