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It is November 2011 now. If I want to refer to something that happened in August 2009, which phrase do I use?

  • two summers ago

  • three summers ago

Or is there a better phrase that conveys the relative time span?

(No offense meant to the folks in the Southern Hemisphere for my assuming definition of "summer")

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

My intuition is that "last summer" is the summer most recently completed, and "two summers ago" is the summer before that, so you'd say "three summers ago". But if there is a chance for confusion, better say the year to be sure.

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I disagree. In the current year we say "this summer" for the summer most recently completed. "Last summer" is for last year's summer. – Andrew Vit Nov 22 '11 at 6:00
Speaking in November 2011, I'd call August 2011 "this summer", August 2010 "last summer", and August 2009 "two summers ago". That is, I'd think "last summer" and "two summers ago" are two different times. But there are no real accepted rules on this, which is why I say it's ambiguous. And if you were speaking in April of 2011 and said "this summer", I think you would be understood to mean the coming summer, i.e. summer of 2011. Whether "this summer" looks forward or back depends on which is closer. – Jay Nov 23 '11 at 14:45

I'd say "two summers ago", but I think it's inherently ambiguous. If you want to be clear, you could say "the summer of 2009".

Sometimes people say "two years ago this past August" or "three years ago next August". But to me this starts to sound more like a riddle that needs to be solved than a clear statement of time.

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In summer 2011, "two summers ago" refers clearly to summer 2009, but sometime in late fall to early winter it becomes ambiguous whether summer 2009 or 2010 is meant.

For clarity, I'd use "summer two years ago".

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Like most others, I would disambiguate if it is important (deposition, argument with spouse, etc.)...However:

Last summer is the most recent complete summer, similar to "yesterday" being the most recent complete day. You call the day before yesterday "two days ago", right? So the summer before last summer (2010) is two summers ago, and the one before that (2009) is three summers ago.

Please tell me you are in the Northern Hemisphere, by the way.

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I would say "over two years ago". If you needed more specificity I would say "in August 2009" or "summer of 2009". If the span of time is important then say "27 months ago".

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Given that the date is presently November 2011:

  • This summer is August 2011
  • Last summer or 1 summer ago is August 2010
  • The summer before last or 2 summers ago is August 2009

In any case, speaking in these relative terms is very loose and open to interpretation, same as when we say "a couple", it doesn't mean exactly two. However, it's useful when you want to give a rough timeframe without sounding overly specific.

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Please leave feedback if you downvote: do you disagree with my answer? – Andrew Vit Nov 25 '11 at 4:06

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