LINGUIST List 12.1795

Thu Jul 12 2001

Sum: Terms for 'Yesterday' and 'Tomorrow'

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Malcolm Ross, Terms for 'Yesterday' and 'Tomorrow'

Message 1: Terms for 'Yesterday' and 'Tomorrow'

Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001 15:44:04 +1000
From: Malcolm Ross <>
Subject: Terms for 'Yesterday' and 'Tomorrow'

In early July I sent the message below to LINGUIST and to HISTLING. I 
am very grateful to the many people who sent me information. They 
were (I hope I haven't omitted anyone) Ignasi Adiego, Henning 
Andersen, Peter Austin, Claire Bowern,Daniel Collins, Ivan A. 
Derzhanski, Michele Goyens, Matejka Grgic, Charles Gribble, Jared 
Grigg, Joachim Grzega, Alik Guilmy, Christian Kay, Harold Koch, 
Konstantin Krasukhin, Joost Kremers, Johanna Laakso, Anthony M. 
Lewis, Alexis Manaster-Ramer, Bart Mathias, David Nash, Johanna 
Nichols, Jurgis Pakerys, Marc Picard, Robert L. Rankin, Robert R. 
Ratcliffe, Nick Reid, Laurent Sagart, Raphael Salkie, Marian Sloboda, 
Larry Trask, Shigeru Tsuchida, Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, R�my Viredaz, 
Alexey Vorobyov, Cecil Ward, Andrew Wilcox. I am sorry that I have 
not been able to reply to everyone individually.

Below the message is a 'summary': it is a mixture of extracts from 
the e-mails I received and, where I received similar information from 
several people, my attempts to summarise the information received.

There can be no doubt that there is a crosslinguistic tendency for 
terms for 'yesterday' to be derived from 'evening' and for terms for 
'tomorrow' to be derived from 'morning'.

A few people asked if I was going to write a paper on this, and some 
gave me detailed references to pursue. I am not intending to write a 
paper, but if anyone else is interested in doing so and would like 
fuller information, I am happy to share it, as well as my own work on 
Oceanic languages.

Malcolm Ross


I am interested in the diachronic origins of terms for 'yesterday'
and 'tomorrow'. In Germanic, Slavic and Oceanic Austronesian
languages, at least, we find terms for 'yesterday' derived from
'evening' (Slavic, Oceanic) and for 'tomorrow' from 'morning'
(Germanic, Oceanic). I have three questions:

1) Is there a Slavonic specialist who can tell me how Russian
/vchera/ 'evening' is related to /vecher/ 'evening'? I take it
/vchera/ is a case-marked form of /vecher/, but I haven't managed to
locate the details.

2) Are there similar developments in other language families? I
assume there are, and I would be grateful for examples.

3) Has anyone written anything about these developments? Perhaps I
have been looking in the wrong places, but almost everything I have
found about the linguistics of time is either about aspect and tense
(like Comrie's excellent works) or has a strong philosophical bias.
The development of lexical items seems too mundane to command



1. A number of people drew my attention to Carl Darling Buck, A 
Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European 
Languages, Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press, under 
"Tomorrow" (14.48, p.999) and "Yesterday" (14.49, p.1000). Buck draws 
attention to the facts that most of the words he cites for 'tomorrow' 
are derived from words for 'morning' and some of those for 
'yesterday' from words for 'evening'. He assumes the semantic 
developments 'in the morning' 'on the following morning' 'tomorrow' 
and 'in the evening' 'in the past evening' 'yesterday'.

He attributes a 'tomorrow' < 'morning' derivation to almost all the 
items he cites: Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, Irish, 
Welsh, Gothic, Old Norse, Danish, Swedish, English, Dutch, German, 
Lithuanian, Latvian, Church Slavonic, Serbocroat, Czech, Polish, 
Russian and Sanskrit (but not Latin).

He attributes a 'yesterday' < 'evening' derivation only to the items 
he cites from Modern Greek (ps�s), Lithuanian, Latvian, Church 
Slavonic, Serbocroat, Czech, Polish and Russian. Most other words are 
attributed to a Proto Indo-European root *^ghes.

2. R�my Viredaz kindly provided the following additional cases from a 
range of Indo-European languages:

Yiddish nekhtn, Bavarian n"chten, Swabian n"hti 'yesterday', Middle High
German nehten 'gestern Abend' (Nibelungen +), an old dative, now widespread
in Northern and Central Germany (L. Sain�an, M�moires de la Soci�t� de
Linguistique de Paris, 12, 1903, 135).

Tsakonian epph�ri 'yesterday', cf. Ancient Greek hesp�ra: 'evening' (ibid.).

Latin mane 'in the morning' > e.g. Italian domani, French demain, 'tomorrow'
(but also e.g. Old French main 'morning') (see W. Meyer-L�bke, Romanisches
Etymologisches W-rterbuch, # 2548 and 5294).

Vedic pra:t�r 'early', 'in the morning', 'the next morning', 'tomorrow'.
Vedic dos.�: 'dark, evening' and 'in the evening': Modern Dardic languages
do:s. (with retroflex s.) 'tomorrow', Nuristani languages e.g. Kati du:s,
'tomorrow' (M. Emeneau, in Ancient Indo-European Dialects, 1966, 138, or R.
L. Turner, A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages, 1966, both
after G. Morgenstierne); similarly, Old Iranian daosha(s)-tara- 'Western'
(implying a meaning 'evening' from the basic word): Middle and Modern
Persian do:sh 'the last night, the evening before', Ossetic: Iron dyson /
Digor �dos� 'yesterday night, yesterday evening' (M. Mayrhofer,
Altindoarisches Etymologisches W-rterbuch, I, 1992, 750).


1. I received responses to by question on Russian /vchera/ and 
/vecher/ from Henning Andersen, Daniel Collins, Konstantin Krasukhin, 
Johanna Nichols and Miguel Carrasquer Vidal. I have attempted to pull 
complementary portions out of their responses, which all draw 
attention to the same etymology.

Johanna Nichols wrote:
Russian /vecher/ 'evening' and /vchera/ 'yesterday' are related, but 
not inflectionally. That is, /vchera/ isn't any case form of 
/vecher/, either synchronically (in Russian or any other Slavic 
language) or for late Proto-Slavic. The two roots are cognate, but 
the vowel alternation is one of (derivational) ablaut. OCS has 
/v'chera/ and /vecher"/ (' = front jer, " = back jer; these are 
reflexes of short *i and *u respectively).

Henning Andersen wrote:
Common Slavic vIchera is related to CS vecherU as follows:

(i) minor sound change of e to front jer (since lost) conditioned by 
the following palatal consonant. Kortlandt has argued that this is a 
regular sound change, there are a good handful of examples.

(ii) More importantly, the form is the old instrumental, PIE 
*-o-H(1), which yields the regular Li. -uo (final -u (cf. vilku\, but 
ger-u/o-j-u. In Common Slavic the o-stem instr. is renewed on the 
pattern of u-stems and i-stems (South Slavic -omI//emI) or replaced 
by the u-stem ending (West and East Slavic -UmI//-ImI). Since Slavic 
merges PIE long *a and *o, the renewal may have been motivated by 
this phonetic change. I believe you can find CS vIchera thus 
accounted for in Vaillant's Grammaire com. des langues slaves 
(Section on instr. of ostems, possibly chapter on adverbs). Stang 
argues some place that the stress of the adverb Russ. krugo/m 
(contrast regular instr. kru/gom) reflects the accent of the earlier 
instr. in CS -a!, which bore the accent in all masc. and neut. nouns 
that did not have an accented long (acute) stem vowel.

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal wrote:
Russ. <vc^era>, Pol. <wczoraj> etc. are from C.S. *<vIkera>, according
to Vasmer an archaic instrumental (in accented *-�:) of *<vekerU> (>
Russ. <vec^er>, Pol. <wiecz�r> etc.), with reduction of <e> to <I> as
is common in Slavic (a vowel reduction postdating the PIE Nullstufe).

Daniel Collins wrote:
Russian /vchera/ (which has cognates in all the Slavic languages) is 
thought by some etymologists to be an archaic o-stem instrumental 
singular ending *o: , which was adverbialized prior to the addition 
of the morpheme *-mi reflected in the attested o-stem instrumental 
case ending (Vasmer, Machek). Baltic continues to reflect this 
archaic form of instrumental; Lithuanian o-stem -u is a reflex of *o: 
under acute accent (Endzelins). The vocalism in the first syllable 
(*vikero:) does not have a regular ablaut relation to the other case 
forms (nominative singular *vekeros etc.) and seems to reflect 
allegro reduction. An alternative explanation is that vchera is a 
genitive of time; however, that leaves the accent unexplained.

2. Several people also pointed out that the Slavonic terms for 
'tomorrow' are derived from 'morning'.

Daniel Collins wrote: Old Church Slavonic and Old East Slavic zautra 
= za 'during' + utra genitive singular 'morning'.

Charles Gribble wrote: 'Tomorrow' is related to 'morning' also in 
Slavic: Russ. {zavtra} is *za utra, Serbo-Croatian {sutra} is *s 
utra, Bulgarian {utre} is from *utro, etc.

Marian Sloboda wrote: Slovak has /zajtra/ and for "morning" there is 
an etymologically different stem (the word is /rano/ connected with 
"early"). Czech also /zi:tra/--/rano/, but has also a word /jitro/ 
(which is not used much, but can be seen in older texts (from 19th, 
first half of the 20th century).

Matejka Grgic wrote: Slovene /vc^eraj/ = yesterday and /vec^er/ = 
evening, /jutri/ tomorrow and /jutro/ morning.


Jurgis Pakerys wrote:
1) vakar "yesterday", cf. vakaras "evening"
2) rytoj "tomorrow", cf. rytas "morning"

1) vakar "yesterday", cf. vakars "evening"
2) rit "tomorrow", cf. rits "morning" (long /i/ in both words)

Johanna Nichols wrote: Lithuanian /vakar/ 'yesterday' and /vakaras/ 
'evening' have the same vowel grade and different morphology for the 
adverb (no ending). ... judging from the facts here there was a 
single Balto-Slavic root from which adverb and noun were both derived.


Cecil Ward wrote:
The modern Celtic words for "tomorrow" all do seem to come from a 
root meaning "morning". Possibly "in (the) morning".

As for "yesterday", the modern words all come for the old IE root 
ghdhyes- but have been influenced by the word for "today". They have 
all become combined with the definite article.

Larry Trask wrote: Welsh <yfory> 'tomorrow' is etymologically a 
prepositional phrase meaning 'in the morning', from <bore> 'morning', 
with mutation. Irish <i mbaireach> 'tomorrow' has a similar origin.


Andrew Wilcox wrote: As for Mod. Greek, the Tegolpoulos-Fytrakis 
dictionary (standard serious "family dictionary") gives etymology of 
'avrio (=tomorrow) as Ancient Grk. 'avos (=morning). No etymology for 
chthes (=yesterday) is given except to note that it is unchanged 
since Anc. Greek.

Konstantin Krasukhin wrote: Greek AURION "tomorrow" can be connected with
Proto-Indo-European *AUS-R; cf. Greek EOS < *AUSOS, Latin AURORA < *AUSOSA etc.


This is my summary of responses from Michele Goyens, Laurent Sagart, 
Larry Trask, Marc Picard and Anthony M. Lewis.

Late or low Latin /de mane/ 'starting from the morning', lit. 'from 
morning' is the source of French /demain/, Provencal /deman/, 
Italian /domani/. Latin /maane/ > Romanian /miine/.

Spanish /ma�ana/ and Portuguese /manha/ each mean both 'morning' and 

On the other hand, French /hier/ "yesterday" (and its cognates in 
other Romance languages) derives from the Latin adverb /heri/ 
"yesterday", from IE *ghes-, and thus cognate with /yesterday/ and 
German /gestern/.


Johanna Laakso wrote:
In the Finnic languages, the word for 'tomorrow' is obviously related 
with 'morning', although the relationship is not quite transparent 
for modern speakers. Finnish _huomenna_ is an essive form (old 
locative case, typically appearing in crystallized idioms like this) 
of _huomen_, which is by now obsolete; the word _huomen_ 'morning' 
only appears in the greeting _hyv�� huomenta_ 'good morning!' and in 
derivatives like _huominen_ 'of tomorrow' (adj.), while the normal 
word for 'morning' is _aamu_. In other Finnic languages, other 
derivatives of the same stem may appear, as in Estonian, where 
_homme_ 'tomorrow' is an opaque form (perhaps, originally illative?) 
of the same stem, while another derivative, _hommik_ (< Proto-Finnic 
*hoomenikko), is used for 'morning'.

However, the word for 'yesterday', Fi. _eilen_ ~ Est. _eile_ (< 
Proto-Finnic ?*eklen) is a Proto-Finnic innovation of an obscure 
origin; the attempts by some etymologists to connect it with the word 
for 'former, situated before' are not very convincing. There is a 
word for 'evening' (Proto-Finnic *ekta-kV-), which is phonologically 
not very far away, but the relationship between these two words, 
however, remains obscure.


Nick Reid wrote: In Ngan'gityemerri (non-Pama-Nyungan, NT, Australia) 
/kultyi/ 'evening' and /kultyinimbi/ 'yesterday', where -nimbi is a 
nominal case suffix marking 'direction from' and 'cause'.

The lexeme for 'tomorrow' is also a root plus agentive/instrumental suffix
/ngunyine-ninggi/ though in this case the root is obscure (to me anyway).

Peter Austin has written an article which shows the correspondence between day
terms and day period terms (tomorrow=morning, yesterday=evening) in 
Australian Aboriginal languages.

Harold Koch provided evidence form his database of the 
'evening'/'yesterday' and 'morning'/'tomorrow' connections in Arandic 
languages and of the 'evening'/'yesterday' connection in Western 
Desert languages.


Larent Sagart wrote:

Then there is Classical Chinese xi1 'evening; last night', discussed 
in my book of 1999 "The roots of Old Chinese" (Amsterdam: John 
Benjamins), on p. 160. I assumed the development 'evening' > 
'yesterday evening' for this word because it appears to contain a 
root meaning 'night'. In the same book, I also supposed that the 
classical and modern Chinese word for "yesterday" (Mandarin zuo2) 
also contains the root for 'night' and also came to mean 'yesterday' 
out of a basic meaning 'evening', through 'yesterday evening' in both 

The Mandarin word for 'to-morrow' ming2 tian1, and its classical Chinese
precursor ming2 ri4 also have a good chance of being from an original
meaning 'morning, dawn', since ming2 means 'bright' ri4 means 'sun, day',
and tian1 means 'sky, day'. I do not know of any published references on
this, though.


Bob Rankin wrote:
In the Siouan language, Kansa, (and other, related languages) 
'tomorrow' is /gasi~/. 'Tomorrow' in the sense of 'on tomorrow' or 
'during tomorrow' is /gasi~da~/. 'Morning' is /gasi~xci/, literally 
'real morning', where /-xci/ is a common intensifier, often 
translated 'real' or 'very'.

In Lakota (Teton Dakota) 'evening' has the root /xta/ and 'yesterday' 
is /xtaleha~/. The second part, /-leha~/ is a locative deictic 'now, 
thus far, at this place'. /hi~ha~na/ 'tomorrow' is paralleled by 
/hi~ha~na-xci/ 'forenoon', literally 'real morning' with the /xci/ 
intensifier noted in Kansa, above.

In my transcription /~/ nasalizes the preceding vowel and /c/ is a
voiceless, unaspirated palato-alveolar affricate = c-hachek; /j/ is the
voiced counterpart of /c/ = j-hachek.


Alik Guilmy wrote:
for example, in Tatar language (Turkic group):

'kich' (evening) - 'kiche' (yesterday)
'irte' (morning) - 'irtege' (tomorrow)

Larry Trask wrote:
Turkic languages also show some of this, though I am no Turkicist, 
and I can't readily interpret the data I have here:

Kurtulus Oztopcu et al. (1996), Dictionary of the Turkic Languages, London:

I see here that words for 'tomorrow' and 'morning' are typically 
closely related. Some examples:

	'morning'	'tomorrow'

Kazakh	tangyerteng	yerteng
Kyrgyz	tang erteng	erteng
Tatar	irt"	irt"g"
Turkmen	ertir	ertir
Uyghur	"tig"n	"t"

Turkish has none of this, but Turkish <sabah> 'morning' is the same word as
Azerbaijani <sabah> 'tomorrow'. However, this item, with its final 
/h/, cannot be native Turkic, and must be borrowed, probably from 

We also have links with 'evening' and 'yesterday':

	'evening'	'yesterday'

Kazakh	kesh	keshe
Kyrgyz	kech	kechee
Tatar	kich	kich"

The words for 'yesterday' appear to be case-suffixed forms of the 
word for 'evening'. Again, Turkish shows none of this.


Larry Trask wrote: I'm afraid Basque <atzo> 'yesterday' and <bihar> 
'tomorrow' are morphologically unanalyzable and etymologically 
opaque: they cannot be related to <arrats> 'evening' or to <goiz> 
'morning' or indeed to anything else at all.


Raphael Salkie wrote: In Shona (Bantu, the majority language of 
Zimbabwe) the word for TOMORROW is "mangwana", and the word for 
MORNING is "mangwanani". I've always assumed that the similarity with 
Spanish is just a coincidence...


Bart Mathias and Shigeru Tsuchida note the following words:

/asa/ 'morning', /asita/ 'tomorrow' ('morning' in earlier Japanese), 
/asu/ 'tomorrow' (a little bookish), /asatte/ 'the day after 

Shigeru Tsuchida wrote further:

ONO Susumu, a specialist in Japanese, suggests that the root as-, 
which appears common in the above three words, might have had a 
meaning of `dawn' (under the item asu in his dictionary 
``Kogo-Jiten'' [Old (Japanese) Dictionary] (Tokyo: Iwanami Publishing 
Co. 1974 first ed.)(Old Japanese around 8 to 9 centuries.)

According to the above dictionary, there were two series of words 
indicating time in Old Japanese: daytime-oriented, and nighttime- 
oriented. (In the following, F indicates a voiceless bilabial 
fricative, which has become h in initial position and has been lost 
in medial position in Modern Japanese.)

Day-centric: asa --> Firu --> yuFu
 morning daytime evening
Night-centric: yuFumbe --> yoFi --> yonaka --> akatuki --> asita
 evening night midnight dawn morning

Asa (Dc) and asita (Nc) both meant substantially the same `morning', 
but asita (Nc) meant, by implication, the morning after having passed 
a night when something happened, and thus in the middle age the 
emphasis began to shift to `tomorrow morning', and finally `tomorrow' 
in modern Japanese. (Likewise, yuFumbe (Nc) `evening' now means `last 
night' in modern Japanese.)

One reason why there are more words in the night-centric series may 
be in the fact that in those days we had a matrilocal society in 
Japan, a man visiting a girl at night to copulate. Thus yoFi was the 
time when it became dark and a man visited a girl; yonaka was the 
time when the man stayed with his girl-friend; akatuki was the time 
when it was still dark, but the man had to leave for his house.


Robert Ratcliffe wrote:
In Classical Arabic the words for 'yesterday'
('amsu) and 'tomorrow' (ghadan) have related words meaning 'evening'
('umsiiya(t)) and 'morning' (ghadaa(t)) respectively. I am not sure how
these forms are related derivationally or historically. 'Yesterday' and
'tomorrow' are adverbial formations, which I suppose are based on noun
forms no longer in use, and the noun forms for evening and morning are
apparently secondary nominal formations which (I suppose) have replaced
the earlier words under the pressure of ambiguity. (By the way these are
not the normal (= taught in the textbook) words for evening and morning
which are masaa' and SabaaH.)

In modern spoken Arabic, these forms are largely replaced by words
originally meaning 'early' (tomorrow) (Egyptian bukra), and 'past'
(yesterday) (Egyptian imbaariH).

Ivan A Derzhanski also noted that the nouns seem to be derived from 
the adverbs in Arabic, not vice versa.

Joost Kremers wrote:
.... the word for "tomorrow" in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) is 
"bukra", which in Classical Arabic (from which ECA derives) means 
"early morning".

R�my Viredaz wrote:
Kurdish sbe (with schwa) 'tomorrow', from Arabic s.aba:h. 'morning' (with
emphatic s. and pharyngeal h.), Kurdish sba 'morning' (H. Adjarian,
M�moires de la Soci�t� de Linguistique de Paris, 16, 1910-11, 365).
Dr Malcolm D. Ross
Senior Fellow
Department of Linguistics
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies
Australian National University
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