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“In the last 3 months” vs “in the past 3 months”

Which of the following is the right one to use? (a) In the past three years, .... (b) In the last three years, ....

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You can use either - in practice they won't mean anything different in your particular usage. But it's just a coincidence that the two words are similar in appearance, and in many other contexts they're not at all equivalent. –  FumbleFingers Nov 9 '12 at 2:49
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@MετάEd: I think you're being unduly dismissive. I couldn't easily explain the difference, or show how the imperceptible/non-existent difference in OP's exact examples gradually becomes more significant in closely-related constructions. For example, "My past year in Provence was fun" implies you lived there until very recently. But "My last year in Provence was fun" carries no such implication, and might actually refer to the last of perhaps several years when you lived there, perhaps having moved elsewhere decades ago. –  FumbleFingers Nov 9 '12 at 3:12
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@MετάEd: Aw, c'mon! Many if not most questions don't show an awful lot of "prior research". And as I implied, I couldn't easily answer the question myself, and it's not obvious how I'd go about using Google to see if someone else has already explored any possible distinction with examples like these. –  FumbleFingers Nov 9 '12 at 3:32
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@FumbleFingers The world definitely needs positive and constructive attitude like yours. Such attitude definitely enhances dissemination of knowledge (including English usage). Your reply to my question did help me distinguish the two words. –  Yong Nov 9 '12 at 4:07
    
@FumbleFingers Questions are expected to demonstrate substantial thought and prior research. We could discuss further at English Language & Usage Meta if you wish to raise the question. –  MετάEd Nov 9 '12 at 21:29
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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Nov 9 '12 at 12:58

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1 Answer

up vote 0 down vote accepted

Here are some sources I found:

"In the last 3 months" vs "in the past 3 months"

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/grammarlogs/grammarlogs85.htm

The clearest explanation, which adds a little to what FumbleFingers has already mentioned, is:

Avoid the use of last as a synonym for latest if it might imply finality. The last time it rained, I forgot my umbrella, is acceptable. But: The last announcement was made at noon may leave the reader wondering whether the announcement was the final announcement, or whether others are to follow.

http://nstockdale.blogspot.com/2006/02/pointless-distinctions.html

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