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Next is either a pronoun, an adjective or an adverb.

Why do the phrases "for the next years" and "in the next years" sound so weird to me? Coming years, following years, future years they all seem ok to me but next years doesn't. What's wrong with me?

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    Does "for the next few years" sound equally strange to you? Commented Jan 18 at 11:44
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    Idiomatically, for plural units of time, it's normally in / during the following hours / days / weeks / months / years / decades / centuries / ... But for the singular form, something will happen in / within the next minute / hour / ... Commented Jan 18 at 11:53
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    '... over the next few years [hours / days / weeks / months]' is the expression I'm used to. As Killing Time suggests, the addition of 'few' makes a big difference to idiomaticity. Commented Jan 18 at 16:01
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    I believe it's because the lack of a quantifier leaves the actual number of years entirely open to interpretation. Obviously there's an inherent assumption that it's some approximate number, but we have no clue what actual number the speaker has in mind. With years, few would suggest a number in the range of 3 to 5.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 18 at 23:12
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    It sounds odd to my ear as a native speaker as I interpret "next" to be singular while "years" plural. I would probably use "In the next year" or "in the next few years" (few years being a singular set) or "in the coming years" as they all seam more natural to me.
    – JonSG
    Commented Jan 19 at 18:44

5 Answers 5

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I am not a native English speaker, but to me "next" seems to refer to something that is immediately next to the point of reference. The "next" year is the year immediately after the current one. The "next" few years follow the current year immediately.

If my understanding of this matter is aligned with that of a native speaker, then the phrase "in the next years" implies a contradiction, because there can only be one next year. The same contradiction is not present in the phrase "in the next few years", because you are referring to a group that consists of "a few years" and follows immediately after the current year.

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    A reasonable suggestion, but 'next' does take unqualified plural-form nouns: 'The next sections are ...' / 'The next examples are ...'. But these admittedly look at the extension of well-established sets by adding a sensible subset of the final set, with the implication that other subsets follow the next. For example, examples 4, 5 and 6 out of a final total of 12. This isn't implied with 'the next years' (but neither is it with 'the next few years'). Commented Jan 18 at 16:16
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    I've only ever seen/heard/used it with a quantifier (e.g. the next five years or next several years). Without that it feels like there's something missing.
    – Barrington
    Commented Jan 18 at 22:33
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    @DaigakunoBaku You're not wrong, it sounds weird to me too, and for similar reasons. When I hear "next" i'm expecting it to be followed by some sort of quantifier like "In the next two years" or "in the next several years." Leaving out the quantifier means the number of years is completely ambiguous. It could be two years or thirty thousand years.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 18 at 23:10
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    I also think Daigaku no Baku is onto something. There are many cases where a usage is correct and even not rare but seems a little weird, and this is one of them. "The next few years" - totally natural because the period of a few years is the immediately following clump. "The next years" - a little odd, because only one of the years is the actual next year, but obviously meant to be synonymous with "the next few years". (And I am a native speaker.) Commented Jan 19 at 0:06
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    Your idea that next cannot precede a plural noun is faulty. What comes next can be plural or singular. Here are two examples. The next months would be crucial for the testing. The next days would reveal the solution. etc. etc. etc. //Plural or singular can come immediately after the word next: the "next storm OR next storms". Immediately after the next storm=singular; immediately after the next storms, plural. So, all the upvoters are, alas, mistaken.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 19 at 17:08
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The etymology of “next” has an influence on its use. The OED informs that prior to the 14th century next was the superlative of nigh and (from early Middle English onwards) near.

It continues

The further (and now usual) analogical superlative nearest is first attested in the 15th cent. and becomes widespread in the 16th. After the emergence of these analogical superlatives, the superlative sense of next begins to become secondary (although it is never entirely lost: there are no senses in which it can form its own superlative). The notion of greatest proximity tends to be merged into that of adjacency, either within a sequence or series or simply as regards physical location.

Thus 1. “They hung him from the next tree” differs from 2. “They hung him from the nearest tree”.

  1. Implies the tree that follows in a series of trees - thus implying a previous series of trees. 2. Implies adjacency to random trees

This concept is further shown in the different answers to:

“I have placed the numbers 1, 2, 3 on the table. Which is the nearest number?”

“I have placed the numbers 1, 2, 3 on the table. What is the next number?”

In the next few/three/one thousand years works because the proximity and series of those years is defined by a limit on the series.

In the next years does not work well because “years” is unlimited: this causes "next years" to be vague and uncertain - it could mean "two" or "two billion" - it is therefore avoided.

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    As a native English speaker, I want next to refer to a single unit. Because Year is a countable noun, using the plural feels wrong. The phrase "Next few years" has an implicit singular of "Next (group containing a) few years" which gives the adjective next a singular target and stops feeling strange.
    – StuperUser
    Commented Jan 19 at 12:06
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    @StuperUser The next years were problematic in his story. Last time I looked, the adverbial works too: He faced problems in the next years. What things "sound like" is not always how things are.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 19 at 17:47
  • Next years has a meaning though; it's treating years as a single time span and saying that time span is multiple years long.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 19 at 19:43
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From the site Ludwig.guru. Many examples of "in the next years" in the press and magazines, in technical/scientific and non-technical texts..

"People are mentally stressed by anxiousness about what is coming in the next years".

1 The New York Times "In the next years, we should have a constitutional democracy plus a market economy".

2 The New York Times "And in the next years, millions more will move to these places".

3 The New York Times - Magazine I'm sure that in the next years they will have the last step.

4 The Guardian - Sport On medical forms in the next years, I confessed my abortion when asked.

5 The New York Times - Magazine In the next years, Ms. Buechner largely disappeared from public view, though not by choice.

6 The New York Times - If things were set right, the German economy would grow more in the next years than in the previous ones. 7 The New York Times "I'm very happy and extremely committed to give everything I have, also in the next years when I'm with them.

8 The Guardian - Sport The fruits will be borne in the next years.

9 The Journal of Headache and Pain - So the disposal of these cars is of increasing importance in the next years.

10 Robotics and Autonomous Systems - In the next years the luminosity of the LHC will be significantly increased.

11 Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing - The sea will be a source of economic development in the next years.

12 Marine Genomics - The existing, planned and discussed ECAs are uncertain about their implementation in the next years.

13 Journal of Shipping and Trade - Possible new SAR missions in the next years include SAOCOM-CS and Tandem-L.

14 Carbon Balance and Management - In the next years the potential mechanisms of CGRP-mAbs should be explored by pharmacological methods.

15 The Journal of Headache and Pain In the next years the potential mechanisms of CGRP-mAbs should be explored by pharmacological methods.

Also, please note the scientific contexts in which it appears.

I don't think one can quibble with any of the uses of the phrase in the forgoing examples.

"in the next years" is basically semantically the same as "in the coming years".

Cambridge University:

There are technologies entering the market that will help us bridge that gap in the next years for blended textiles.

The Institute for Sustainability Leadership CISL

Oxford University

COVID-19 Government Response Tracker So, in the next years, our researchers will analyse our authoritative dataset with innovative quantitative and qualitative methods to delve deeper into different government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and shed light on the causal links between pandemic responses and relevant social, political, and economic factors.

Covid tracker

Just two examples of university usage in the UK.

Harvard College

At the same time, in the next years, we’re going to do something. People have been saying that it’s going to be done for a long time, but it actually is going to be done. Harvard College Fund

STANFORD MEDICINE MAGAZINE
And how do we respond to other pandemics likely to arise in the next years or decades? Stanford

[I don't think this is at all strange sounding; in the next years, in the next months, in the next days, in the next eons, in the next decades, etc. are all idiomatic in English. It also is not exactly the same as: in the next few years, etc.]

Another example:

The next years would be difficult for the boy. [subject, noun] The boy would have difficulties in the next years. [adverbial]

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    The skeptic in me would like the link to the Ludwig.guro site, which cites all these sources, please.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 18 at 21:53
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    Quote number 1 is a direct quote from an interview, quote number 2 is a non-native english speaker, quote number 3 doesn't show up anywhere on google except ludwig.guru and this site. I also couldn't find quote 4, quote 5 is also a direct quote of a non-native english speaker. I won't search them all, but I feel like it's consistent with 1) a common minor english error, or 2) common among European english speakers but not North American or Australian ones. Commented Jan 18 at 23:59
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    I also had a look at quote 11 that I picked at semi-random as it wasn't a news source. It is definitely written by english as a second language speakers and the first paragraph is littered with minor grammatical errors Commented Jan 19 at 0:01
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    @Lambie I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. My experience is that this is not common usage in America, and when I hear it, the speaker is usually a native speaker from Europe or Asia. It sounds weird to lots of people, as seen in these comments. Nobody's saying it's WRONG, we're saying it sounds STRANGE. There's no attempt to prove you wrong here.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jan 19 at 15:44
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    My guess would be this is a literal translation of "in den nächsten Jahren" by first-language German speakers, who may be fluent in English but sometimes use a German turn of phrase. Ngrams of 'in the next years' in English = 3*10^-6 while 'in den nächsten Jahren' in the German corpus peaks at 4*10^-4 in 1990 (maybe when the authors of the phrase were in school?) Commented Jan 20 at 0:13
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I suspect the reason is that this expression is too vague about the time period covered, and consequently people normally use a more informative variation, such as "in the next few years".

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"In the next years" sounds like a mismatch because next can mean specifically the "very" next with the "very" being understood or implied by context. That usage of "next" implies a singular item, which clashes with the plural "years".

With a bit of thinking on the hearer's part, there is a clear meaning with no contradiction. "Next" must then mean all years that can ever be a next, that is to say, specifically excluding the past and present years. It thus means all the future years. If it helps, does this next example using "next" again as an adjective paired with plural noun show the same meaning without the clashing? "The next birthday parties will be better." For me, I think it does.

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  • next years is not "all future years". All future years is all future years.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 27 at 14:31
  • "The next years" clearly does not include any past years, or even the current year. Being plural, it does not refer to the one next year. Therefore it means future years. The "all" is understood. To how many future years do you think it is limited? (and why?) Commented Jan 28 at 16:51
  • The next years is the same as the coming years. I take it to mean the sequence of years that lie ahead, but not too far ahead.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 28 at 16:56

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