What's the difference between in the last 3 months and in the past 3 months if there is any?


A lot of people now accept that last and past can be used interchangeably in certain contexts:

  • These last few months have been difficult.
  • These past few months have been difficult.

However, traditional grammarians claim you should never use last when you mean past since last is final as opposed to just gone by.

These last few months have been difficult.

Old-schoolers would say that unless you are dying, you probably have more months ahead of you. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to say, “These past few months have been difficult.”

The bottom line: These days it doesn’t matter if you use last or past, but if you wanted to be hardcore about it, you could use the more appropriate choice based on context.


  • 2
    When the verb used takes us up to the present moment, as "have been" in your example does, last and past clearly mean the same thing. But in a situation where the time in question is not clear—as in "During the Yankees' last/past year of dominance, Derek Jeter was a key figure"—they do (or at least may) not. In that case I would use past if I meant the previous season and last if I meant some earlier year (say 2009, when the Yankees last won a World Series). – Sven Yargs Feb 26 '13 at 22:37
  • It did create confusion. My friend told me that "last payment cycle was an exception" when he really meant "past payment cycle". "last" could mean some date in future but past would refer only to past date. – SenG May 11 '17 at 2:38
  • @Zach, that link is broken – Vinh VO Mar 19 '18 at 9:27

I would say that there is no distinction. If one wanted to say 1 August---1 October, one could say 'the last three calendar months' or 'the past three calendar months', I suppose.


Today is Oct. 13, 2010.

It can be argued that in the last 3 months would be intuitively understood as the time frame from 8/13/2010 to 10/12/2010, while in the past three months would mean July, August, and September. Some (see comments) see it exactly the other way around. Therefore there seems to be no difference between the two, but if you want to be precise, you need to add something like

in the last three calendar months

or use another formulation like

during/within the last 90 days

  • 3
    I would take the meanings in the opposite way. The past 3 months is the past three months' time period, whereas the last 3 months would be the last three calendar months, unless this month is nearly over. However at first glance I'd treat these as synonyms. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 13 '10 at 18:37
  • Mr. Shiny -- make yours a separate answer? – Ophiuroid Oct 13 '10 at 22:07
  • 3
    Looks to me, based on these responses, that the difference between these constructions is just unclear. – Kosmonaut Oct 13 '10 at 23:59

“in the last 3 months” - I guess this term should be used with past simple. The time period is already gone. E.g. now is february and if I say "in the last 3 months", I mean "in november, december and january".

The term “in the past 3 months" shows the period which is not finished yet. So there should be used the present perfect.

  • 2
    "In the last three months, I've eaten thirty Mars bars." "In the past three months, I've eaten thirty Mars bars." Both are valid and exactly equivalent. – Andrew Leach Feb 15 '15 at 10:18

protected by tchrist Feb 26 '15 at 2:11

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