English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

At this time yesterday, I was going to work. [Past Continuous]

I am very sure that the above sentence is 100% correct. (Reference: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastcontinuous.html.)

But I doubt that the one below is grammatical:

At this time yesterday, I had gone to work. [Past Perfect]

Note how I used at, not by. I see the following difference:

  • At this time yesterday ⇒ Exactly on this time yesterday not after it neither prior to it.
  • By this time yesterday ⇒ No longer than this time yesterday, it might be either exactly on this time yesterday or slightly before it.

It's known that the Past Perfect tense refers to completed actions before something in the past. That's why one of the time expressions of the Past Perfect is "by this time yesterday".

A friend of mine said, and I quote, "It's correct. if u say ' at this time yesterday I had gone to work' it means that u had already arrived to the work." (Sic.) But I couldn't agree less with him.

So my question is, is it grammatical in Standard English (I'm not talking about colloquial English nor dialects) to say:

At this time yesterday, I had gone to work.

Or should I use by?

share|improve this question
"By" is certainly correct, and is better to use there than "at". Whether "at" is also grammatically correct is a tricky question. – Peter Shor Nov 10 '12 at 12:35

If you allow me to tweak slightly:

I had gone to work at 6 o'clock.

At 6 o'clock, I had gone to work.

Both these are fine if there is a context allowing them, such as:

Yesterday, I returned home at 10 pm and was fast asleep within ten minutes. My day had been very busy - I had risen before dawn, and done my usual 3-mile jog before returning for a shower and breakfast. I had gone to work at 6 o'clock. ...

But the expression indicates the time at which "I" went to work (left home), not some time by which (as you say) I was at work or some way along my way to work. To avoid confusion, choose by.

share|improve this answer
But, the time expression which "At this time yesterday" being used in this instance does not comply, if you like, with "Past perfect". I would appreciate that you give me a straight forward answer, apart from the context and "By this time yesterday" is better. Consider the sentence as an answer to a question. Question: Bla bla bla? Answer: By this time yesterday, I had gone to work. In this case, according to GRAMAMR, is this sentence correct or incorrect? Thank you very much indeed, guys. – Bright Polyglot Nov 10 '12 at 13:55
Chomsky famously showed that it is ridiculous to use just syntactic reasoning to decide whether a given string should be considered acceptable. The grammar in the examples I gave is acceptable. The meaning you require (I had already left by this time yesterday) needs by rather than at, for the reasons you yourself give. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 11 '12 at 1:09
@BrightPolyglot Q:"At this time yesterday you were still at home, were you not?" A:"No, indeed; at this time yesterday I had gone to work" OR "No, indeed; by this time yesterday I had gone to work." Either will serve. – StoneyB Nov 11 '12 at 19:40
Thank you. I so much appreciate your assistance. – Bright Polyglot Nov 11 '12 at 19:55

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.