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If today is 8th April 2022, what is the right interpretation of the term 'in the last 1 week'?

Is it ?

  1. 28th March to 3rd April
  2. 1st April to 7th April
  3. 27th March to 2nd April

Is there a framework of rules that helps interpret phrases that involve time references, like above, in an exact/unambiguous manner?

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    When you say "last 1 week" do you mean "last week" or "last 7 days"? The starting day of a week can very by location so where are you considering? Apr 8, 2022 at 9:32
  • Please assume that I am a listener and somebody said the above to me Apr 8, 2022 at 9:38
  • 3
    "last 1 week" isn't a common thing to say - a native English speaker would say "last week".
    – Stuart F
    Apr 8, 2022 at 9:43
  • 1
    I would understand in the last week to mean 'in the seven days leading up to today' unless further information was given - the last week of term, the last working week (usually Monday-Friday) etc. Apr 8, 2022 at 12:30
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    Like all attempts at exactness in language, the temporal phrases anchored in the present (next week, last month, next quarter, last semester, etc.) are prone to various usages that contradict one another in different dialects and expressions. None of them have to mean any particular thing, since their usages are fixed and social. See Fillmore's Deixis Lectures to see what it's all about. Apr 8, 2022 at 20:54

1 Answer 1

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As has already been pointed out in the comments, in the last 1 week sounds unidiomatic (although it is not ungrammatical). So let's first consider the less problematic phrase in the last week.

There are two distinct possible ambiguities in interpreting that phrase. The choice between 1 and 3 depends on whether Sunday or Monday is regarded as the first day of a week. This is usually a well settled matter within a particular country, but differs among countries. Knowing the country in which the communication takes place will thus make it possible to rule out one of these two interpretations.

The choice between 2 on one side, and 1 or 3 on the other, depends on the context. There is no general rule of English language that would determine which way of interpreting the phrase is the correct one, with the exactness and definiteness that the OP seems to seek, and the same is true of analogous phrases, such as in the last month and in the last year.

The context will, however, often resolve the ambiguity. For example, in:

If you are considering buying this stock today, you should take into account the fluctuations of its value in the last week.

it is obvious that the hearer is urged to consider the seven days immediately preceding this one, rather than some earlier seven-day period. On the other hand, in

We may not be able to fulfill our quota for this week, even though we did very well in the last week.

the last week will be understood to be the week preceding this one, i.e. the seven-day period that ended on the most recent weekend.

In the first example, in the last week could have been replaced with in the last seven days, which would have removed the ambiguity completely, while in the second it couldn't have been. I suspect that the OP's formulation in the last 1 week was an awkward attempt to create something similar to in the last seven days and so force that interpretation. If that is what one wishes to accomplish, one can, however, do so less awkwardly by simply saying in the last seven days.

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    'sounds unidiomatic' vs 'not ungrammatical'. According to Orwell, this is probably still 'unacceptable'. Apr 8, 2022 at 16:16
  • In the last one week is unidiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Apr 8, 2022 at 17:18
  • @Lambie, indeed, as the answer itself says. What exactly is your comment trying to add to the answer?
    – jsw29
    Apr 8, 2022 at 17:23
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    I agree with you and disagree, as usual, with Edwin. I should have written: is unidiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Apr 8, 2022 at 17:24
  • You might also want to mention "in the past week". This is more likely to be equivalent to "in the last seven days", while "last week" usually refers to a calendar week.
    – Barmar
    Apr 8, 2022 at 19:44

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