Deictic temporal pronoun

From Teflpedia

A deictic temporal pronoun is a deictic pronoun used to reference temporal deixis. There are four of these in English; today, tomorrow, tonight and yesterday.[1]

Meaning[edit | edit source]

Deictic temporal pronouns reference relative time:

  • Yesterday was Saturday, 25 June 2022.
  • Today is Sunday, 26 June 2022.
  • Tonight is the night of Sunday, 26 June 2022 and Monday, 27 June 2022.
  • Tomorrow will be Monday, 27 June 2022.

Tomorrow’s today is today’s tomorrow, and tomorrow’s yesterday is today’s today. As we advance through time, these pronouns’ referents are constantly changing.

Form[edit | edit source]

They are analysed as pronouns[2] because they can’t take a determiner, (not *the tonight); they also have genitive forms "today’s", "tomorrow’s", "tonight’s" and "yesterday’s".

In traditional grammar however, deictic temporal pronouns are analysed as nouns or adverbs, depending on syntactic function. However, unlike prototypical adverbs, they can’t be used in adverb mid-position; e.g. *I yesterday did it does not parse - this is like the place adverbs here and there, but unlike prototypical adverbs e.g. I obviously did it.

They can be used as nouns; e.g. "Yesterday was a drag, but tomorrow will be great". And noun modifiers - "yesterday morning was cold". These also form the head of time point noun phrase adverbials ("I did it yesterday"); or as a noun embedded within a noun phrase adverbial, (e.g. I did it the day before yesterday").

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

From a learning point of view, second language learners tend not to have a problem with these. They may occasionally say #"this day", #"this night", #"next day" or #"last day"; these are pragmatic errors rather than grammatical errors as they are very much less frequent than deictic temporal pronouns. There may be some L1 interference; in Chinese, 今天 (Pinyin: jīntiān) literally means “this day”, 今晚 (jīn wǎn) “this night”, 明天 (míngtiān) “next day”, and 昨天 (zuó tiān) “last day”.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The words "overmorrow" (meaning the day after tomorrow) and "ereyesterday" (meaning the day before yesterday) and "yesternight" (last night) exist in the dictionary but most people probably don’t know what they mean.
  2. Huddleston and Pullum (p429)