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How does the division into evening and day in English? Is there a certain time when evening and night begin?

  • There are no rigid rules about this. Highly dependent on context and culture. Generally speaking, in a rural setting, "evening" begins about the time the work day begins to close, when the angle of the sun and the dimming light suggests that it would be wise to come in from the field and prepare for supper. (Note that in many places "dinner" is served at noon.) "Night" begins when it is too dark to safely/profitably walk around outside. – Hot Licks Apr 11 at 12:10
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According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary :

evening

a: the latter part and close of the day and early part of the night

b: chiefly Southern US and Midland US 

:AFTERNOON

c: the period from sunset or the evening meal to bedtime

According to the same dictionary :

night

: the time from dusk to dawn when no sunlight is visible

// The store is open all night.

So the difference between these words is the following:

  1. They belong to different time paradigms.

  2. EVENING forms the group with MORNING and AFTERNOON. They are usually used when we speak about exact time (2 o'clock in the morning or afternoon, 6 o'clock in the morning or evening, etc.).

Usually EVENING lasts from 5 p.m. (in the winter) or 6 p.m. (in the summer) to the midnight, though it's connected with having last meal and going to bed.

  1. NIGHT forms the group with DAY. These words are associated with the idea of sunlight (Opposite the day, there's no sunlight at night).

  2. This difference can be illustrated with the pair of words "tonight" and "today".

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The dictionaries give a somewhat historical or more literal meaning, that 'night' is the time of darkness (sunset to sunrise), and 'evening' is the time around dusk (roughly an hour before to an hour after sunset).

These senses rely a lot on astronomical features, following the time of year and the latitude.

In practical usage, they lean more towards a consistency around the workday, meals and sleeping, which are naturally derived from sunrise and sunset, but are averaged out over the year so that they correspond more closely with the clock than sunrise or sunset.

  • evening - starting vaguely around or after dinnertime, 5-8pm, and vaguely ending closer to bedtime, 7pm to 9pm.

  • night - starting roughly 7pm and lasting till roughly 4am maybe 5am the next morning.

Note that these are vaguely independent on the individual's meal and bedtime, but also independent of the time of year and latitude.

What this means is that in Minnesota in the summer, when it's light out to about 10pm (US centric), evening is still around dinner time, and night still starts around 8pm even though it's light out (but it'll feel weird to say that it's night while the sun is still up).

A lot of this implies that there is ample overlap, so that there is no sharp transition from evening to night. The one thing you can be sure of is that evening comes before night.

Also, 'evening' is a bit more formal (and less frequent) than 'night'. So if you make plans to meet someone at 7pm (at whatever time or latitude), it is more likely that you'll say 'See you tonight' instead of 'See you this evening', and you'll almost always use 'last night' instead of 'last evening' or 'yesterday evening' even if the event was more around the evening time.

This is not to say that the dictionary definitions don't also apply, words mean what they're used for. Around 4pm in London in December, it's both nighttime and evening, even though you haven't even had dinner yet. So it's vague and slippery.

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