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As from object, is there a rational reason for saying "last night" rather than "yesterday night", though you would say "yesterday morning" and "yesterday afternoon"?

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Er. Am I the only person who says "yesterday night"? I wasn't even aware that it's uncommon –  Michael Mrozek Mar 10 '11 at 0:15
    
Pure comic effect really. That phrase and 'today evening' always bring a chuckle when new speakers use them in conversation. –  user5920 Mar 10 '11 at 0:25
    
Well, I've been scolded by native English speakers more than once for saying that :) It just comes natural to me, as in both Italian and French you would say it (ieri sera and hier soir). –  nico Mar 10 '11 at 7:25
    
Similarly strangely, we do say 'next morning' but not 'next afternoon' or 'next night' (or rather, we do, but in 'the next afternoon' and not 'I'll see you next afternoon'). –  Peter Shor May 28 '11 at 12:34
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

[Edited:] You couldn't say last morning in most cases, because you might be referring to this morning if the hour of speaking is late (today's morning is the "last" morning then): it would be confusing if last morning could be either today or yesterday. The same applies to the afternoon. But you can't go later than "night": the last night that has passed (you would not use "last" for a period that is not over yet) is necessarily that of the day before today. This could be the reason why we use "last" only with "night". But there might be some entirely different historical reason instead; it is impossible to say without textual research.

We could theoretically use yesterday night as an alternative to last night; but it would be longer, which might be why it is never used. Or it could be some other reason.

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Are you sure the length is the reason? My guess is that the reason for using "last night" over "yesterday night" has something to do with the "day" in "yesterday" ("day" often being the opposite of "night"), but this is only a guess. –  ShreevatsaR Mar 9 '11 at 18:37
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And then there is the archaic "yesternight" ... –  Robusto Mar 9 '11 at 18:40
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I'm not sure I agree with the logic that we don't use yesterday night because it is longer. We don't use "yesterday night" because we don't use it. The fixed phrase "last night" just has the effect of syntactic blocking; that is, the existence of the phrase "last night" prevents other seemingly logical ways of saying the same thing from being grammatical. –  nohat Mar 9 '11 at 19:03
    
I guess it makes sense. Never thought of it this way. Thanks. –  nico Mar 9 '11 at 19:51
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I agree completely with "we don't use ... because we don't use it." English doesn't always make logical sense. Sometimes things are the way they are because they "sound right." In some ways this makes no less sense than other languages assigning feminine or masculine attributes to inanimate objects. –  Bill Mar 9 '11 at 23:16
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Night is the time that spans over the change of days. I can refer to events that happened after midnight - indeed last night, but not yesterday. Thus, "yesterday night" would lead to ambiguity.

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+1 Each day has only one morning period, one afternoon period, and one evening period, but it has two separate night periods. The first night period spans the time between midnight and morning, and the second spans the time between evening and midnight. As @mizo said, this leads to ambiguity when you use the term 'yesterday night'. –  oosterwal Mar 10 '11 at 0:03
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Here's one possible explanation.

Many years ago (before Shakespeare), people didn't either say yesterday night or last night because they said yesternight instead. Shakespeare uses both last night and yesternight. When yesternight was still in use, yesterday night would have sounded strange, even though last night wouldn't. And when yesternight went out of use completely, last night was already too firmly established for yesterday night to be used.

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Interesting idea. :) –  BobRodes Apr 13 at 18:58
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“Yesterday night” is less common than “last night”, but it does occur. The Oxford English dictionary has a quotation from 1654–5: in C. H. Firth Clarke Papers (1899) III. 26, “Yesterday night came letters from Collonell (sic) Hacker”.

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Morning, afternoon and evening are the different phases or 'time frames' of the day, so yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon and yesterday evening are quite but natural. However, when night arrives, the day is gone or when the day is gone, we call it night.

Hence, YESTERDAY NIGHT is not logical.

This is my reason, but I may be wrong. :)

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Please complete the following phrase "yesterday evening are quite (?) but natural." –  Mari-Lou A Apr 13 at 18:55
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