Using the term “yesterday” is simple enough — it means that you are speaking about something that happened a single day ago. But when you want to talk about something that happened two days ago, is using the phrase “the day before yesterday” correct?
It is correct to say “the day before yesterday.” It means “two days ago,” and you can use it to talk about something that happened two days prior to the current day. You’ll use this phrase more commonly when speaking rather than in writing. When writing, it is often better to say “two days ago,” though both phrases are synonymous and correct.
Keep reading to understand more about what “the day before yesterday” means, how to use it in the correct context, and other similar phrases you can use to talk about the day or days before yesterday.
What Does “The Day Before Yesterday” Mean?
The phrase “the day before yesterday” is simple enough to understand if you know the definition of “yesterday.” The word “yesterday” means “one day before today” or “on the day before today” (source). Thus, “the day before yesterday” typically refers to two days prior to the day you’re in.
Some people also use the word “yesterday” to talk about the recent past in a more generalized way, such as in a sentence like “Yesterday’s teenagers were not as complicated as they are these days.”
But in the above sentence, yesterday doesn’t literally mean one day before. Rather, the speaker is using it figuratively to talk about the recent past.
So, in explaining the above example, the use of “yesterday” would mean that “yesterday’s” teenagers, or those that came before the current generation, were less complicated and perhaps easier to understand.
In our context, when we say “the day before yesterday,” we are speaking about the literal meaning of the word “yesterday,” precisely one day before the current day.
Keep in mind that “the day before yesterday” means two days before the present day. In this way, the meaning is limited to the specific day you are speaking about, and you cannot use the phrase to reference any other day.
If the current day is Monday, the day before yesterday would be Saturday. Similarly, if the current day is Wednesday, the day before yesterday would be Monday, and so on and so forth.
You simply need to count two days prior to the current day to define “the day before yesterday.”
What Is the Day Before Yesterday Called?
Because the interpretation of “the day before yesterday” changes depending on what the current day is, there isn’t exactly a term or specific word that you can use or call “the day before yesterday.”
However, the word “ere-yesterday” does mean “before yesterday” (source). This is an archaic word, though, meaning that it is a word that is no longer in everyday use unless you choose to use it to communicate in an “old-fashioned” way.
You may see “ere-yesterday” in novels or other pieces of fiction writing where the goal is to retain the language spoken through history.
Remember that language evolves over time, and there are various reasons for that. But it is most certainly continually changing and adapting depending on the needs of the people who speak it (source).
So, while the prefix ere- was at one time very common in English, you probably wouldn’t use it today. Still, as we’ve said above, it means “before,” specifically “before in time” (source). With that in mind, it follows that it would mean “before yesterday.”
Otherwise, just remember that whatever day you are currently in defines what the “day before yesterday” is. You’ll count two days prior to identify the day you or someone else is speaking about.
In What Context Can You Use “The Day Before Yesterday?”
There are many contexts in which you might choose to use the phrase “the day before yesterday.” In conversation, we often need to talk about events or situations based around time, specifically, when something happened or when something will happen.
Here is a quick scenario where using this phrase makes perfect sense. Imagine you just began a new job at a bank a couple of days ago when a friend congratulates you on your new position and asks when you began working there.
Your Friend: Congratulations on your new job! When did you begin working there?
Your Response: Thank you! I began working there the day before yesterday.
If the present day is Thursday, then you are telling your friend that you began your new position on Tuesday of the same week, the day before yesterday, where yesterday is Wednesday.
There are many scenarios and contexts when using this phrase fits well.
Another example might be when you or someone else has lost a pet. If a friend asks you when the last time you saw your cat or dog was, and you know that it was specifically two days ago, you can say “the day before yesterday.” Others will quickly and easily understand what you mean and when you last saw your pet.
There are numerous other contexts in which using this phrase makes sense, and it is a very common phrase in the English language.
Remember that we operate based on time periods, schedules, and specific days of the week. “The day before yesterday” is just one example of how we understand events based around a particular date or time frame.
When Can You Use “The Day Before Yesterday?”
While the specific day for “the day before yesterday” can change depending on the present day, it is always two days before the current day. So, you cannot use this phrase to denote any other day besides two days prior. This is the only time that you should use “the day before yesterday.”
If you want to speak about other days in the past (or future), there are other phrases that you can use, which we will discuss a bit further in this article.
Is it Grammatically Correct to Say “The Day Before Yesterday?”
It is acceptable to say “the day before yesterday,” but it is tricky because it is not exactly a complete sentence and, therefore, is not technically correct in isolation from other parts of a complete sentence. This is why we mentioned earlier that you’d more often use the phrase when speaking, not in writing.
More specifically, if someone asks you a question, you can respond with “the day before yesterday.” However, you would not write “the day before yesterday” as a stand-alone sentence because it is not a complete sentence.
Remember that a complete sentence must contain both a noun/subject and some verb or action word. If both of those key parts are not there, then you’ll have a sentence fragment.
If you look closely at this phrase, there is no verb. And, we can’t quite be certain of the subject, either, even though both “day” and “yesterday” can function as nouns.
Let’s break this down more specifically.
Distinguishing Parts of Speech in “The Day Before Yesterday”
The word “the” is a definite article. Therefore, you can use “the” before nouns to indicate something specific rather than general.
For example, in our context, when we say “the day,” we are talking about a specific day — the day before yesterday. If we said “a day,” we would be referencing something general — a day that is not necessarily defined.
The word “day” is a noun in this phrase, and it is a significant part of the full noun phrase as it helps us identify what you or someone else is referencing.
The word “day” can also, at times, be an adverb — a word that shows a relation of time, place, or circumstance, cause, or degree — but here it is a noun or, more specifically, a thing or idea.
The word “before” is a bit trickier than words like “the” and “day.” “Before” can be a preposition, adverb, or conjunction.
In this context, “before” is a preposition because we are using it to refer to a sequence of events in time, specifically a single day before yesterday. You’ll often use “before” as part of noun phrases to refer to timed events or places, too.
Finally, “yesterday,” similar to “day,” can be both an adverb and a noun. Remember that we defined yesterday as “the day before today” or the recent past. Based on the definition, “yesterday” tells us more about when something happened.
You may also recall that adverbs can answer four questions:
- To what extent?
So, when you look at the phrase “the day before yesterday,” we can tell that it is an adverb and not a noun based on the fact that it answers, in conjunction with the rest of the phrase, “when” something happened.
Remember that many words in the English language function as more than one part of speech. Identifying them can be tricky at times, so don’t worry too much if you aren’t sure of one right away. These intricacies of English grammar will come with time.
How Do You Use “The Day Before Yesterday?”
Now that you know the parts of speech for the full phrase, you can see that we are missing a clear subject and verb.
We have a determiner (the), a noun (day), a preposition (before), and an adverb (yesterday). These are all wonderful parts of a full sentence, but we cannot use the phrase independently in formal writing without a clear subject and verb.
However, you can use it in dialogue and when speaking since, in conversation, we can assume the subject and verb. So let’s take a look.
Question: When did you get a speeding ticket?
Response: The day before yesterday.
Given the context, the person who asked the question can easily identify the subject you are speaking about.
You can certainly respond with a complete sentence, such as, “I got a speeding ticket the day before yesterday.” But you don’t need to do so in casual conversation because, again, the person you are speaking with can easily assume the subject and verb based on their question.
If we spoke in full sentences all of the time, it would probably sound funny and would not be as efficient, either. So, while in writing, it would be incorrect — unless you are writing dialogue — to use “the day before yesterday” alone as a sentence, you can feel free to do so in casual conversation.
Using “The Day Before Yesterday” in a Full Sentence
Since you cannot use this phrase as a full sentence in writing, you’ll want to add a bit more to it to make it a complete thought. Here are some examples of ways that you can do that:
1. I arrived the day before yesterday.
2. She bought a new car the day before yesterday.
3. I lost my hat the day before yesterday when I was walking home
In each example above, “the day before yesterday” is a phrase that tells us more about a sequence of events, specifically when something happened.
And, each sentence has a clear subject and verb: in the first, “I” and “arrived,” respectively, in the second, “she” and “bought,” and, in the third, “I” and “lost.”
When Not to Use “The Day Before Yesterday”
You may already be able to identify when you should not use “the day before yesterday.” Remember that the phrase indicates a specific day, two days prior to the present day. If you are speaking of any other day, you’ll want to either name that day specifically or use a different phrase altogether.
You should also avoid using the phrase in formal writing since it is not a complete sentence, unless you are writing a dialogue that occurs between two or more people.
If you are writing formally — perhaps a legal document, email, letter, or even a paper for a college class — you may want to say “two days ago” instead of “the day before yesterday” because the latter is less formal and more conversational than the former.
There are other phrases you can use as well, including those that you might use if you are speaking about a specific day one week ago or even a year ago. You may also want to choose a phrase to indicate something that will happen not on “the day before yesterday” but, rather, the day after tomorrow!
What Can You Use Instead of “The Day Before Yesterday”
While, in other languages, there are shorter phrases or words to indicate “the day before yesterday,” in English, there isn’t much. There is “ere-yesterday,” but, as we said, that is archaic and, according to most scholars, lost use around the 16th century.
Still, there are other options, including those below. You can:
- Name the specific day.
- Use “two days ago.”
- Use “the day before last.”
If you are speaking about something in the future, you can say “the day after tomorrow,” which, similar to “the day before yesterday,” means precisely two days later than the present day.
If you want to talk about something that happened exactly one week ago, you can say or write, “one week ago today.” If it was two weeks ago, you could say, “the week before last.” We often use words like “before” and “after” to indicate time, whether you need to reference the past (before) or the future (after).
Phrases and Idioms: Understanding the Difference
One quick note that you also may want to consider and remember is that “the day before yesterday” is simply a phrase, which is a group of words that work together as a unit or part of a clause but that cannot, technically, stand alone as an independent sentence.
An idiom is different in that you cannot understand the specific meaning by identifying the independent words or parts of speech within the phrase — you would use these phrases figuratively, not literally.
If we look at “the day before yesterday,” we are able to identify the meaning based on the words themselves, whereas you could not do that with an idiom.
For example, a common English idiom is the phrase “hang in there,” but it doesn’t mean you are actually hanging on anything. Rather, it means that you shouldn’t give up. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
So, while an idiom is often a phrase, phrases are not always or often idioms. Nonetheless, as you learn all of these new phrases and ideas, you should hang in there! It will get easier with time.
Remember that you can only use “the day before yesterday” when speaking about two days prior to the current day. It is the only time that you can correctly use the phrase. Also, remember that it is a phrase, not a complete sentence.
So, avoid it in formal writing, but feel free to use it in conversation whenever it fits your context. If you’d like to learn more about unique phrases in English, take a look at “Is It Correct to Say “Thank You Both”?” next!