Let us pay attention to the terms back and forward in the quote below.

On the 4th of June they had the drill for independence day. But if you go back further you'd find that around mid-May, they were nowhere near planning the event. But if you move forward (to around the end of June) you should find yourself in shock with the level they've reached.

Observe that I refer to back as going further into the past and forward, into the future.

Strangely though, I found some colleagues (teachers in one of the scools I used to work with), using the words differently like this:

This is still September. So let's have our prize-giving around mid-November. On the other hand, let's move it forward to around October. But then again we don't want the sports event causing any trouble so let's move it backward to early December.

I find this very difficult to accept. They even argue that the 10th of a month is after the 5th and thus it's behind.

Thus my question: Is this how the terms are used in most countries or is this unacceptable?

  • Hmmm... Interesting. All the people I met used them the way you used. However, thinking about it, past is the early one(forward) and future is the later one (backward). That could be why some people use the term in opposite ways.
    – user51300
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 5:19
  • 2
    It would be more idiomatic to say bring it forward / push it back meaning to make it happen sooner / later, but it is entirely valid.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 8:31
  • See also scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/15146/… Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 17:44

2 Answers 2



  • If the date is relative to another date, you observe normal past/future relations.
  • If the date is relative to a speaker, closer to the speaker is "forward" and further away is "backward"

I've certainly encountered this and I've noticed it's to do with the relative positioning of the dates compared to the speaker, not other dates.

I think I'll find this easier with an example and an illustration:

Given a person on a date, say the 1st September, place all of the relevant dates on imaginary pieces of card in straight lines in front and behind them representing future and past.

                            |>                   --->
 |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  :  :
 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
          AUG               ^          SEPT

If they are "facing" the future, the Sep 9 card is behind the Sep 8 card, you are moving further away from the speaker, you are moving back.

 ------------>             <|
 :  |  |  |  :  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
          AUG               ^          SEPT

Similarly, this time the speaker is "facing" the past, they talk about moving an event from Aug 23 to Aug 27*, they are moving it closer to themselves, ergo, forwards.

*It's a bit fruitless reorganising events in the past isn't it!

  • So are you suggesting that today being the 18th, we will move our meeting BACK to the FUTURE, thus the 25th? Huh? That's weird :/
    – itsols
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 8:04
  • It certainly is weird, but yes, you've understood correctly. Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 9:33
  • When an event is in the future and we want to change it to a date closer to today we talk about bringing it "forward" even when talking about it relative to other dates even further in the future.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 6:13
  • That’s consistent with my answer. The new date is given relative to the speakers date rather than other dates Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 6:15

While there are a few cultures that think of the past as spatially in front of them, and the future behind them (their bodies), they are rare.

If the teacher was looking at or thinking of a calendar, moving an event "forward" would be like moving it closer to the front cover of the calendar, as though it were a book. From that perspective, "forward" is opposite from the relative norm. You would need to have a meta-communication about what time reference frames you're going to share, for clarity.

  • But don't the numbers in the calendar indicate forward movement into the future as the numbers get larger? Then how can anyone use the term otherwise?
    – itsols
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 5:52
  • From THEIR perspective, you'd be going further away from the "front" of the book, and thus "moving backwards". It would probably be better if they said "closer" or "further" & specified the past or future, since it is usually obvious to all where the "present" is "located".
    – Ace Frahm
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 6:11
  • +1 This is the standard use. Note though that you generally bring something forward and put it back: this makes the relative movement as described here clearer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 7:54

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