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Last versus past

Over the years I have come across many people who are blissfully unaware of a very common misuse of the word “last”.

“Last” refers to the final instance of something or a number of sequential instances that lead up to and include the final example.

So the 28th is the last day of February in a non-leap year, the fourth quarter of a match is the last quarter, you can eat the last biscuit in the pack and you can catch the last train home.

However “past” should be used when referring to the most recent instance or instances, where there are more to come.

So when looking at the recent records of two sporting teams, for example, it is incorrect to say that one or the other has won “seven of the last 10 meetings” … unless one or both teams, or the overall competition, has ceased to exist.

An employee hasn’t been absent from work for the last three days, but rather the past three days, just as I have spent the past couple of weeks working on this website.

And hopefully if you’ve missed the past couple of trains, you still have time to catch the next.


All blog posts by Murray Brust

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