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As from object, is there a rational reason for saying "last night" rather than "yesterday night", though you would say "yesterday morning" and "yesterday afternoon"?

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    Er. Am I the only person who says "yesterday night"? I wasn't even aware that it's uncommon Mar 10, 2011 at 0:15
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    Pure comic effect really. That phrase and 'today evening' always bring a chuckle when new speakers use them in conversation.
    – user5920
    Mar 10, 2011 at 0:25
  • Well, I've been scolded by native English speakers more than once for saying that :) It just comes natural to me, as in both Italian and French you would say it (ieri sera and hier soir).
    – nico
    Mar 10, 2011 at 7:25
  • Similarly strangely, we do say 'next morning' but not 'next afternoon' or 'next night' (or rather, we do, but in 'the next afternoon' and not 'I'll see you next afternoon'). May 28, 2011 at 12:34
  • @nico: Yes, but consider "cette nuit" (ambiguous without context).
    – Drew
    May 25, 2014 at 15:15

6 Answers 6

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[Edited:] You couldn't say last morning in most cases, because you might be referring to this morning if the hour of speaking is late (today's morning is the "last" morning then): it would be confusing if last morning could be either today or yesterday. The same applies to the afternoon. But you can't go later than "night": the last night that has passed (you would not use "last" for a period that is not over yet) is necessarily that of the day before today. This could be the reason why we use "last" only with "night". But there might be some entirely different historical reason instead; it is impossible to say without textual research.

We could theoretically use yesterday night as an alternative to last night; but it would be longer, which might be why it is never used. Or it could be some other reason.

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  • Are you sure the length is the reason? My guess is that the reason for using "last night" over "yesterday night" has something to do with the "day" in "yesterday" ("day" often being the opposite of "night"), but this is only a guess. Mar 9, 2011 at 18:37
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    And then there is the archaic "yesternight" ...
    – Robusto
    Mar 9, 2011 at 18:40
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    I'm not sure I agree with the logic that we don't use yesterday night because it is longer. We don't use "yesterday night" because we don't use it. The fixed phrase "last night" just has the effect of syntactic blocking; that is, the existence of the phrase "last night" prevents other seemingly logical ways of saying the same thing from being grammatical.
    – nohat
    Mar 9, 2011 at 19:03
  • I guess it makes sense. Never thought of it this way. Thanks.
    – nico
    Mar 9, 2011 at 19:51
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    I agree completely with "we don't use ... because we don't use it." English doesn't always make logical sense. Sometimes things are the way they are because they "sound right." In some ways this makes no less sense than other languages assigning feminine or masculine attributes to inanimate objects.
    – Bill
    Mar 9, 2011 at 23:16
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Night is the time that spans over the change of days. I can refer to events that happened after midnight - indeed last night, but not yesterday. Thus, "yesterday night" would lead to ambiguity.

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    +1 Each day has only one morning period, one afternoon period, and one evening period, but it has two separate night periods. The first night period spans the time between midnight and morning, and the second spans the time between evening and midnight. As @mizo said, this leads to ambiguity when you use the term 'yesterday night'.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 10, 2011 at 0:03
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Here's one possible explanation.

Many years ago (before Shakespeare), people didn't either say yesterday night or last night because they said yesternight instead. Shakespeare uses both last night and yesternight. When yesternight was still in use, yesterday night would have sounded strange, even though last night wouldn't. And when yesternight went out of use completely, last night was already too firmly established for yesterday night to be used.

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  • Interesting idea. :)
    – BobRodes
    Apr 13, 2014 at 18:58
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"Yesterday night" is standard usage in British English. It means "the evening of yesterday".

Example from BBC News:

BONFIRE NIGHT DEMO 0820: Eleven people have been arrested after scuffles broke out after protests by the Anonymous movement at Buckingham Palace and Parliament yesterday night.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24831851

From The Guardian:

City officials had been told the storm could make landfall yesterday night and in preparation the Texas National Guard called 600 troops to active duty yesterday morning.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/aug/23/2

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“Yesterday night” is less common than “last night”, but it does occur. The Oxford English dictionary has a quotation from 1654–5: in C. H. Firth Clarke Papers (1899) III. 26, “Yesterday night came letters from Collonell (sic) Hacker”.

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Morning, afternoon and evening are the different phases or 'time frames' of the day, so yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon and yesterday evening are quite but natural. However, when night arrives, the day is gone or when the day is gone, we call it night.

Hence, YESTERDAY NIGHT is not logical.

This is my reason, but I may be wrong. :)

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  • Please complete the following phrase "yesterday evening are quite (?) but natural."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 13, 2014 at 18:55

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