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Would phrases like these generally be considered inclusive of the current period?

I think it's pretty clear that last week does not include the current week. But does last 2 weeks include the current week? Does it make a difference where you currently are in the period?

For instance does last 2 weeks on Sunday mean the exact same time period as last 2 weeks on the following Monday (assuming you start a new week on Monday). On the following Thursday, does it then become an 11 day period rather than 14 days?

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  • Why do you think there is a precise answer? Might not different people mean different things when they say "the last two weeks"? – GEdgar Dec 6 '11 at 19:26
  • There may not be one. I suppose I was hoping the ambiguity was just in my mind. But it seems from the answers that all the possible meanings I've thought of are represented. – William Dec 6 '11 at 23:30
  • I'm writing a program where I wanted to have a more natural command structure for generating reports. So consistency is more important than accuracy but I was hoping to use the most commonly interpreted meaning or most accurate. It seems just as ambiguous now as when I asked the questions. – William Dec 6 '11 at 23:35
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Tricky. On its own, last week means the entire previous week. So on a Tuesday, last week would be the previous Monday to Friday, or Monday to Sunday, depending.

In the last two weeks would generally mean the previous 14 days.

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The singular versions (yesterday, last week, last year) are absolute.

"In the last year" is equivalent to "in the last 365 days before today", and thus includes the current year.

"Last year" means the last calendar year.

If I'm speaking on a Friday, "last week" includes 11 or even 12 days earlier, while "in the last week" is equivalent to "in the last seven days".

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  • What does "last two years" mean then ? – sr9yar Aug 26 '20 at 9:22
  • @sr9yar That's no a standalone phrase. Use it in a sentence? – egrunin Aug 26 '20 at 9:39
  • Technically "in the last year" and "in the last 365 days before today" are not the same because of leap year – taxilian Sep 29 '20 at 21:21
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Such a phrase can either include or exclude the current moment, depending on how it's used. The phrase by itself represents a set of time points that can either be open or closed; closure, if any, is provided by the construction it occurs in.

Fillmore's 1971 Deixis Lectures cover this question among many others, in the third lecture, "Time".

The first two lectures in the series are recommended for background in reading this; these were actually delivered as a series of lectures, and such texts tend to build up ideas one by one, at the speed of vocal understanding, instead of compressing them into theories.

So it's serious linguistics, but it's actually composed in well-written English prose. With amusing asides. And real jokes. That got laughs, at least in Chuck Fillmore's deadpan delivery.

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  • 2
    I'm sorry, although the links are greatly appreciated, but what is the actual answer to the original question? – sr9yar Aug 26 '20 at 9:20
  • The actual answer is that such a phrase can either include or exclude the current moment, depending on how it's used. The phrase by itself represents a set of time points that can either be open or closed; closure, if any, is provided by the construction it occurs in. – John Lawler Aug 26 '20 at 14:16
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Today is Monday. Last week is strictly the period of seven days ending at midnight on Sunday and the last two weeks is strictly the period of fourteen days ending at midnight on Sunday. No one would refer to anything occurring today, yesterday or the day before as taking place last week or in the last two weeks. I wouldn't worry about it. As usual, the context will determine the words used and what they mean.

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  • By strictly, I suppose you mean by convention. – Kris Dec 5 '11 at 8:59
  • @Kris: If you like. A week is, by convention, a period of seven days and a day is, by convention, a period of 24 hours. – Barrie England Dec 5 '11 at 9:17
  • Imagine it's another day, like Wednesday the 7th. I would then use the last two weeks to mean a little more than 14 days, starting on Sun (or Mon in a business context) and continuing through yesterday. I would definitely be referring to something occurring yesterday or the day before as part of the last two weeks; I don't think it makes sense to say no one would ever do that. I might even include today's events, for example, at Wednesday's afternoon meeting: "The project? Well, in the last two weeks, since we started on Nov 21, we've made good time..." – aedia λ Dec 5 '11 at 14:57

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