Is the expression 'gone are the days when ...' often used in everyday English?

Or is it something you can see only in books?

  • 1
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/209865/14666 (Closed.) – Kris Jan 21 at 8:13
  • Define and characterize “everyday English”: do you mean brothel graffiti or Sunday sermons or casual conversation or newspaper prattle or historical literature or uneducated speech or academic journalese or holy scripture or prepared speeches or elevated oratory? – tchrist Jan 21 at 23:47

Evidence from Google Books suggests its usage is actually increasing, at least in writing.

According to the OLD the expression is formal:


(formal) used to say that a particular situation no longer exists

  • The days are gone when you could leave your door unlocked at night.
  • In Google Ngrams, it's always best to compare a quoted phrase with a similar one to have any real idea what the usage is, Try comparing "gone are the days" with "many years ago", 'a long time ago", "in the past", "those days are over", etc. – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 8:35
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    @Mari-LouA the apparent increase in usage is a valid and useful point, regardless of other terms. I think the increase goes to the heart of why the expression is used - because of the exponentially rapid changes in society and technology. Gone are the days when we could only have had this discussion in person (rather than via electronic means)! – Chappo Jan 21 at 22:56
  • I suspect that the asker is simply unaware of the contexts in which they are most apt to encounter expressions of the form "ADJECTIVE (be) SUBJECT WH-word ...", or what connotations that deliberate ordering conjures up in the minds of the educated. – tchrist Jan 22 at 0:04
  • Examples: “Sad are the hearts that loved you”, “Gentle is the way of the healer who takes his time”, “Hungry are those who go without supper”, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, “Happy is the dog who finds another treat in the closet”, “Blessed art thou among women”, “Home is the hangman”. – tchrist Jan 22 at 0:33

I suspect that the very reason for specifically asking about Gone are the days... but not The days are gone... is that the former has an inverted word order.

So if you are to compare Gone are the days... with anything, it should be with The days are gone....

Now, I'm not including 'when', because you can have something other than 'when' following, such as 'of', and less frequently you could have nothing following.

And here's the Ngram: gone are the days vs. the days are gone (case insensitive)

In the Ngram there's this interesting point around the early 20th century where gone are the days becomes more popular than the days are gone. From that point on, the former's popularity continues to rise whereas that of the latter stays the same.

So I would say somehow it's becoming increasingly popular compared to its counterpart in canonical form. That said, as with stylistic inversion in general, this expression is not to be used too frequently in everyday English, although it's entirely possible to use it even in a casual setting.


As can be seen in the Google Ngram chart below, the phrase “gone are the days” (blue line) does not fare well compared to "long time ago" (red line), "once upon a time" (green line), "are long gone" (yellow line) and "thing of the past" (dark green).

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If we compare only the bottom two, the phrase "are long gone", is, according to Ngram, exceedingly more popular

enter image description here

Unfortunately, the OP doesn't ask about the unusual word order, "why" there is an inversion, or how to use this type of construction. If they had, more users would be clambering to post an answer. The OP simply asked Is this expression often used? and Or is it something you can see only in books?

My answer proves it is definitely used in books, but its rise in usage, according to Ngram, is tiny, barely noticeable.

Is it often used in everyday speech? Possibly. It's impossible to quantify. Its frequency would depend on the individual speaker, their age, and, I would imagine, whether they were particularly reminiscent about the past.

To sum up, the fixed phrase “gone are the days” is neither archaic nor obsolete, it was even used as a title of a movie in 2018. It is, however, telling that the movie's genre is a western and tells the story of an aging and ailing outlaw who wants to recapture his days of former glory.

In the waning days of the Old West, an aged outlaw, Taylon, wastes away on his neglected ranch, one foot in the grave. Surviving on whiskey and heroin cough serum, his condition steadily worsens. He enlists Virgil, his partner in crime, to undertake a fateful journey to right some wrongs. Unable to reconcile the man he was to what he has become, Taylon is determined to go out with his boots on, guns blazing.

The phrase is understood by all native speakers, and is normally used to hark back to the “good old days”.

Examples from Google Books, between January 2005 and December 2008

  • Gone are the days when an individual's path in life could mean real freedom.

  • Gone are the days when you waited six weeks to close on an assignment of a performing large liquid loan.

  • Gone are the days when a school or institution could count on being able to offer a standard curriculum and traditional programs to a steady stream of students and their parents. Gone too are the days when communication was top-down

  • Gone are the days of local entertainers coming to play or perform free.

  • Gone are the days when you could turn up at a wildlife hotspot during peak season and be fairly sure of encountering whatever it was you were hoping to see.

  • 1
    Interesting Ngram, but it's not really comparing oranges with oranges. The idiom "gone are the days when X" is really only comparable to "X is a thing of the past" - all the other expressions have much broader application and would naturally be more common. Even then, "gone are the days" is used in a much narrower context than "thing of the past" - e.g. some 1999-2004 examples of the latter include future scenarios like "(Beefeaters marching) may soon be a thing of the past" which clearly can't be "bygone days". – Chappo Jan 21 at 22:48
  • @Chappo The point I was making was that the increase of usage cited by user2949... is significantly insignificant. Look at the second graph, this apparent increase is negligible. – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 23:07
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    Your second graph conflates "those days are long gone" with all the other uses of the expression, e.g "Are Bill & Anne still here? No, they are long gone". See This Ngram which shows "gone are the days" is more frequent in the corpora than "days are long gone", as well as showing that both usages have increased rapidly. – Chappo Jan 21 at 23:15
  • Of course, it's more frequent, because "gone are the days" is a fixed phrase but look at the examples where "are long gone" are used, google.com/… different words are used but the meaning is virtually the same (traditions, the days of camp, the days of passing time with friends on the front porch, my marathoning days are long gone, the days when a daughter heeded her father etc, – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 23:22
  • Blessèd is the answer that all such hyperbatic orderings with its data comprises. – tchrist Jan 21 at 23:31

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