Why Do We Say “Tomorrow”? – Strategies for Parents

Why Do We Say “Tomorrow”?

English language learners are sometimes confused by the seemingly illogical use of words, and the word “tomorrow” is for many a confusing concept. For example, learners often struggle to understand why we use words with “day” in them for “today” and “yesterday,” but instead of “nextday,” we use “tomorrow.”

We use “tomorrow” literally to refer to the next day or figuratively to refer to sometime in the future. “Tomorrow” means “on the morrow,” referring to the morning of the next day. “Morrow” and “morning” have similar origins, and “morrow” now survives primarily through this word.

In this article, we’ll discuss the origins of “tomorrow,” the different uses in context, and how to use it correctly. We’ll give various sentence examples and sayings to make clear what the rules and customs are.

 Where Did the Word “Tomorrow” Come From?

“Morrow” is an archaic word meaning  “the morning” or “the next day.”  The word comes from “morwe” in Middle English, which derives from Old English “morgen” (source). 

The word “tomorrow” comes from the preposition “to” combined with “morrow” and originated in Middle English as “to morewe” in the mid-13th century from Old English “to morgenne” (source).

It is interesting to note that the English word “morning” also comes from the same word as “morrow.” They originated in different ways to abbreviate “morewen” or “morwen.” 

Morewe” drops the “n,” while “morn” is a contraction of “morwen,” losing the “we.” Similarly, Middle English “morwenynge” or “moregeninge” became “morning.”

“Tomorrow” first appears as an adverb from the mid-13th century and then as a noun from the late-14th century. 

Until the 16th century, writers used it as two separate words, “to morrow,” but then it appears as the hyphenated word “to-morrow” as in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (source). It remained hyphenated until the early 20th century, when it became “tomorrow.” 

Why Do We Say “Tomorrow” Instead of “Morrow?”

Originally the noun meaning “the day after this one” was “morrow.” The word “tomorrow” functioned like a prepositional phrase, “to-morrow,” meaning “on the morrow.” When one says, “Tomorrow, we will leave,” it has the same meaning as “On the morrow, we will leave.”

“To” was a common prefix in Middle English, especially for words regarding time. Over the years, “tomorrow” began to replace “morrow,” and now “morrow” has become archaic. 

“Good morrow” was a greeting in common use by the late 14th century, and “Good morning” emerged around 1400. Gradually, “morning” overtook “morrow,” which survives only in the word “tomorrow.”

The Difference Between “Today” and “Tomorrow”

Generally, English speakers use “today” and  “tomorrow” to describe the present day and the day after today, respectively, but both can have other meanings as well. You may wonder what is the difference between “today” and “tomorrow,” so let’s explore their use as adverbs and nouns.

Adverbs

As adverbs, “ today” and “ tomorrow”  emphasize when something will occur. “Today”  emphasizes something happening in the current day, while “tomorrow” indicates something that will happen the next day.

“Today” as an Adverb

As an adverb, we primarily use “today” to refer to something in the current day. For example, in a question like “What jobs are you doing today?” you ask about the tasks someone must do during the present day. However, “today’ can also have the broader meaning of “in the current era” or “nowadays.”

“Tomorrow” as an Adverb

When you use “tomorrow” as an adverb, you refer to the day after the current day. So if it is, for example, Wednesday and you arrange to meet someone tomorrow, it means the meeting will take place the day after today on Thursday. 

The question “What are you doing tomorrow?” refers to your tasks for the day after the current day. You also use “tomorrow” as an adverb if you say, “I’m leaving now and will see you tomorrow,” or “The guest is leaving tomorrow.” 

In both these sentences, “tomorrow” points to a verb. In the first sentence, the adverb describes when they “will see” the person, and in the second sentence, the adverb describes the action of leaving (source).

As we saw with “today,” “tomorrow” can also have another broader meaning. For example, you can use “tomorrow” to indicate that something will happen in the near future.

For instance, when you tell someone that the current opposing political party might be the ruling party tomorrow, it means it can happen “fairly soon” and not literally when everyone wakes up the next morning. 

Another example where “tomorrow” means “somewhere in the future” is in the expression “If you don’t get your life on track today, you’re going to be very sorry tomorrow.” A phrase like “Everyone hopes for a better tomorrow” also refers to the near future and not only to the next day.

Nouns

You can use both “today” and “tomorrow” as nouns as well. As nouns, they refer to a specific day. For example, in the sentence “Today is the day we’ll repair the kitchen tap,” “today” refers to the present day. 

When you say “tomorrow will be fine and warm according to the weatherman,” you refer to  “tomorrow” as if it is the name of a day and, thus, in this sentence, “tomorrow” is a noun.

The same reasoning makes “tomorrow” in the next two sentences a noun:

  • I’ll visit you the day after tomorrow
  • The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

Reviewing the Difference Between “Today” and “Tomorrow”

As adverbs, the fundamental difference between today and tomorrow is that “today” describes action on the current day or in current times, and “tomorrow” describes something happening on the next day or in future times.

As nouns, the primary difference between today and tomorrow is that “today” is the current day and “tomorrow” is the day after today.

For more information regarding “today,” read our article “Todays or Today’s: Which Is Correct?

“Tomorrow Will Be Friday” vs. “Tomorrow Is Friday”

Using the proper verb tense is important in English, but common usage differs considerably from what you might expect. For instance, is it incorrect to say “Tomorrow is Friday” instead of “Tomorrow will be Friday”?

You might think we should say “Today is,” “Yesterday was,” and “Tomorrow will be,” but not “Tomorrow is” since “tomorrow” indicates the future.

However, the natural answer to “What day is it tomorrow?” is typically “Tomorrow is Friday.” The present tense indicates what is true at the time of speaking and can sometimes refer to action in the past or future.

Most English native speakers use the expression “Tomorrow will be Friday” only when they refer to predictions or decisions for tomorrow. Examples of such a prediction would be “Tomorrow will be a better day” and “Tomorrow will be the last day of the Covid-19 restrictions.” 

An example of a decision would be “The President has declared that tomorrow will be a day of mourning.”

Thus, one can say that in everyday speech, people generally use “Tomorrow is Friday” when they are just referring to the fact that the next day is Friday. However, when you want to convey a prediction or decision regarding the next day, you use “Tomorrow will be.”

Why Do People Say “On Tomorrow” or “On Yesterday?”

“Tomorrow” means “on the day after this one,” usually referring to an action. Some people, however, think of “tomorrow” as primarily a noun. They form a new prepositional phrase, “on tomorrow,” forgetting “tomorrow” already functions much like a prepositional phrase (source).

That’s where the incorrect phrase “on tomorrow,” as in “I will be at your house on tomorrow,” comes from.

However, “on” is already implied in the meaning of “tomorrow.” So although we say “on Tuesday,” we don’t need to say “on tomorrow.” Again, “tomorrow” originated from “on the morrow,” so it isn’t correct grammar to use the preposition “on” with “tomorrow” (source).

Interestingly, Shakespeare used “on to-morrow” in Scene VI of Act III in Henry V: “Beyond the river we’ll encamp ourselves, And on to-morrow, bid them march away” (source). Still, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the use of “on” with “tomorrow” is redundant. 

However, you might still hear it from time to time, as in “We will have a meeting with the CEO on tomorrow.” Just ensure that you never use this incorrect phrase in writing.

Tomorrow: Synonyms, Antonyms, Idioms, and Proverbs

Since synonyms, antonyms, and proverbs can help students to understand the meaning of words, let’s review a few of the most common.

Synonyms and Antonyms

Synonyms for “tomorrow” include “next day,” “by-and-by,” “future,” “futurity,” “hereafter,” and “offing” (source). Words related to “tomorrow” that speakers often use are “eventuality,” “finality,” and “posterity.”

“Past” is an antonym for “tomorrow,” and the following are near antonyms: “Yesterday,” “antiquity,” “old,” “yesteryear,” “now,” “today,” and “present.” (source).

Idioms and Proverbs

English speakers use many idioms that include the word “tomorrow.” One popular idiom is “Here today, gone tomorrow.”  We use this idiom to indicate that someone or something is only present for a short time. People often use this expression to suggest that what they are referring to is transient or of little value. 

Another idiom people often use is “You are doing this like there’s no tomorrow.” This means that someone is doing something eagerly and quickly but without thinking. There is also a negative connotation to this — the person is doing something now without regard for future consequences.

There are just as many proverbs with “tomorrow.” Many of these proverbs have originated in non-English speaking countries but have since become part of English proverb selections. We list a few interesting sayings that include “tomorrow” you can use.

  • Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. (Spanish proverb)
  • The rich man plans for tomorrow, the poor man for today. (Chinese proverb)
  • Tomorrow never comes. (English proverb)

When to Use “Tomorrow” and When “The Next Day”

While we might view “tomorrow” and “the next day” as synonyms, there is a difference in how we use the two.

Using “Tomorrow” Correctly

As “tomorrow” refers to the day after the current day, it is correct to use “tomorrow” in the present tense, and you can use it when reporting direct speech.

For example, if it is Sunday today and Peter tells you now that he is going back to work tomorrow, it means he is going back on Monday. Therefore, it is correct to advise your manager today (Sunday) that Peter will return to his work tomorrow. “Tomorrow” in these two sentences refers in both cases to Monday. 

You can also use “tomorrow” correctly if you advise your manager on Monday that, on Sunday, Peter has said, “I’m going back to work tomorrow.” In this case, you are repeating Peter’s direct words.

It is never correct to use “tomorrow” for something in the past, except when it is a direct speech form. “Tomorrow” always has to do with the future and never with the past. 

Using “the Next Day” Correctly

When you tell somebody on Monday what Peter has said on Sunday, and you are not using his words in direct speech form, you will use the phrase “the next day.” The correct way to convey the message is to say: “On Sunday, Peter said he would go back to work the next day. “ 

This article is written for strategiesforparents.com.

If you tell somebody on Monday that Peter said on Sunday that he would go back to work tomorrow, it means he will go back to work on Tuesday — the day following the day you are conveying the message.  

Final Thoughts

“Tomorrow” comes from the archaic word “morrow,” which refers to the morning or the next day. “Tomorrow,” then, originally meant “On the morrow,” and we primarily use it to mean the next day.

We hope this article has given you insight into the use of at least one tricky word, namely “tomorrow.” By looking at and understanding the basic principles of why and when we say “tomorrow,” you will now be able to use the right word or phrase when talking about the day after today.

We’ve also shown you that “tomorrow” can mean more than just the next day and refer to the near future.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and a coordinator of educator training at UF - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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