I was handed an example of a formal letter, which was written in reply to an advertisement. This is the starting sentence:

Dear Mr Madrick,

With reference to your advertisement in "The Times" of 6th January last,...

Is this sentence correct? Especially the final word, 'last', seems to be misplaced.

  • Perfectly normal business-speak, and perfectly clear, except, of course, to non-native speakers, but the bureaucrats don't care. Don't expect standard idiomatic English from public or private bureaucrats. Expect what I like to call "idiotomatic English".
    – user21497
    Apr 1, 2013 at 13:31

4 Answers 4


I'd assume you advertised with them, last January 6th, although the wording does seem a bit confusing, because you don't hear it expressed that way all too often.

As for the placement of the word, NOAD lists usage, right in definition #2:

last 1 adjective

1 coming after all others in time or order; final : they caught the last bus.
2 most recent in time; latest : last year | [ postpositive ] your letter of Sunday last.

So, yes, the word is valid where it is; sometimes last can come last. It might not be the most common way to use the word, but it’s a valid placement nonetheless.

  • What's even more confusing is that it originally said '6th January 2012 last', I forgot to include that 2012. But in that case, it would be totally, totally redundant right (since there will be just one 6th January 2012)? Apr 1, 2013 at 9:15
  • 1
    Totally redundant? Not if they were trying to sound sophisticated or quaint as opposed to overly-businesslike. It's hardly necessary, but they might feel like it's a tone-setter.
    – J.R.
    Apr 1, 2013 at 9:29
  • Since 'last' here means 'the last 6th January we have had', it must actually refer to 2013 not 2012. See also english.stackexchange.com/a/63508/8019 (prox./inst./ult.) Apr 1, 2013 at 10:27
  • @TimLymington I know what last means, I meant that it literally said '6th January 2012 last', which I find weird, since there is just one 6th January 2012, so the 'last' part is redundant. You can replace it with any given year, in this case it was just 2012. Apr 1, 2013 at 15:34
  • @DontTellAnyone: No, my point was that although '6th January last' is normal business-speak for '6th January', '6th January 2012 last' is not just unidiomatic but actually wrong, assuming the letter is dated this year. Apr 1, 2013 at 17:37

The sentence immediately after the greeting should start with a capital letter.

The 'last' is redundant unless it is now between 1st and 6th January the following year.

  • In my 'letter writing' syllabus, none of the sentences after the greeting start with a capital letter. Odd.. Apr 1, 2013 at 9:05
  • @DontTellAnyone: That is odd – these all seem to start with an upper-case letter... same with these.
    – J.R.
    Apr 1, 2013 at 9:29
  • @DontTellAnyone: So if your homework is going to be marked by the person who set the syllabus, you'd better follow it, or be prepared to defend your answer. If you want to conform to normal practice (at least for BrE), it's a capital. If you want to refer to 2012 it's better to put that explicitly, or last year. If you mean the latest occurrence, inclusion of 2013 would be redundant but clear and not wrong.
    – DavidR
    Apr 1, 2013 at 13:36

Both “6th January 2012 last” and “last 6th January 2012” are definitely bad English. Many who have learned English as a second language misuse the word “last” due to the sentence structure in their native tongue. In good English, the verb will denote whether one is referring to immediate past or immediate future. For example, in January 2017, if you said “I met him on Nov 18” it means the immediate past November 18, which is in the year of 2016. Similarly, I will meet him on Nov 18” will denote the 18th of the following November which is November 2017. Mentioning the year is required, in this situation, only when the speaker/writer refers to November other than the immediate past or immediate next. Applying the adjective “last” or “next” with the year (“last Nov 2016” or next Nov 2017) is not good English. When the adjective “last” or “next” is used, it should come immediately before the noun it is to qualify. That is, “last January 6” not “last 6th January”. The latter (last 6th January) suggests there are several 6th in January and you are referring to the last of them. -- VN


It's English sounding, but looks fine. The American translation would be:

In regards to your January 6th advertisement in "The Times,"...

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