Are words like "yesterday" and "tomorrow" considered nouns, adjectives, or even adverbs? I'm getting mixed signals from several references.

In a case like "I have an important meeting tomorrow," it seems as if they're nouns. But what about "Yesterday afternoon?"

  • Related to this question about “noun-adverbs”.
    – tchrist
    Apr 11, 2013 at 10:54
  • 1
    "Yesterday, all my trouble seemed so far away."
    – NVZ
    May 22, 2016 at 16:11

7 Answers 7


They can work as nouns or adverbs.

For example:

  • "Yesterday was a great day"; here, yesterday works as a noun.
  • "I will do that tomorrow"; here, tomorrow works as an adverb.

Get ready for more mixed signals. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) gives an analysis that differs dramatically from the other answers here.

It says that yesterday, today, tonight, and tomorrow are pronouns. The evidence:

  • Like I and you, they're deictic. Which day yesterday is depends on the context of the speech act, i.e. when you say it.
  • Unlike common nouns, they don’t take determiners. You can’t say The yesterday was great.
  • Unlike adverbs and prepositions, they have a possessive form. Compare: [Usually’s / After’s / Now’s / Yesterday’s] performance was great.

(It doesn't mention Shakespeare’s “...And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” which shows yesterday acting a lot like a noun. I suppose they’d say that’s just Shakespeare playing with words.)

In a case like "I have an important meeting tomorrow," it seems as if they're nouns.

CGEL spends several pages on “temporal location expressions”. They are sometimes but not always adverbs. Several examples are given of noun phrases that specify time: I have an important meeting [Tuesday / tomorrow / the day after tomorrow / every day / next month / right this minute]. That is, certain noun phrases can be tacked onto a sentence in just the same way as an adverb or a prepositional phrase.

But what about "Yesterday afternoon?"

Here the pronoun yesterday functions as a determiner. This is not something pronouns normally do; it's an oddball case.

Determiners include the bolded expressions in twelve angry men, my red tennis shoes, a sandwich, your father's truck, three or four billion dollars. A singular count noun generally needs a determiner in front of it if it's going to function as, say, the subject of a sentence. Compare: [This afternoon / Yesterday afternoon / Afternoon] was great.

Apparently the days of the week can also serve as determiners this way: Sunday afternoon.

  • 1
    I’m not sure why you say that pronouns normally do not act as determiners—the most deictic of all pronouns, the demonstrative pronouns, also function as determiners (in some contexts being even forced into determinerhood): “That is a red car” vs. “That car is red”. Shakespeare’s usage may not be mentioned, but there is little doubt that these time terms can also function as true nouns with determiners: “I’d rather have a yesterday too much than a tomorrow too little” / “I’d rather have too many yesterdays than too few tomorrows”. It’s just that they don’t commonly function like that. Sep 26, 2013 at 9:25
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    CGEL categorizes the demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and many other words traditionally considered pronouns (several, my, yours) as determinatives. This is a nice analysis because it lets them unify the treatment of That is a red car with other cases where determiners serve as NP heads, like Three or four were left or I saw your truck, but I didn’t see your father’s. However it does leave yesterday afternoon as an oddball case. Hmmm. Sep 27, 2013 at 19:39
  • I think I should edit the answer to address the point about demonstrative pronouns, but I’m not sure how to do it without misrepresenting CGEL. Any suggestions? Sep 27, 2013 at 19:40
  • strange to include counts or possessives as part of the determiner, when like days of the week, they are acting as adjectives or adjectivals and the normal rules about determiners apply: e.g. the Sunday morning train, the train yesterday afternoon, ... However, etymologically today and tomorrow include a determiner (originally this day and the morrow). The etymology for yesterday is more complex but traces to mean the other day (etymonline.com/…). May 22, 2016 at 3:15
  • Yes -- it's not super clear to me whether numbers and possessives are more like adjectives or determiners. There's definitely a little of both in them. CGEL says the possessives are determiners. I guess because of noun phrase order ("David's green frog" vs. "green David's frog"), because it avoids having to add them as exceptions to the "singular count nouns require a determiner" rule, and because possessives don't coexist with "a/the" in noun phrases ("a green book" vs. "a David's book"). But of course there is more to the story. Similarly for the numbers. May 25, 2016 at 16:02

They are actually both considered adverbs in the uses from your example.

One bit of evidence for this is that you could replace tomorrow in your example sentence with other time adverbs, or a word like frequently or daily, but you couldn't replace it with something that is a noun only, like "office", or even "5 PM".

  • 1
    You couldn't really say "I have an important meeting daily" unless you make it plural.
    – Maxpm
    Jan 3, 2011 at 18:56
  • 12
    @Maxpm: "I have an important meeting daily" sounds perfectly fine to me, and means that there is one per day.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jan 3, 2011 at 19:23

Words don't in general belong to a single part of speech (POS), that is POS is not in general a lexical property of a word, but they are normally associated with a particular dominant role/POS which in this (*day) case is Noun (or NP), although like any (prepositional) noun phrase, particularly one locating in space or time it can act as an adverb. Nouns, parts of the body, time points or durations, etc. can even act as verbs (when there is no more obvious and appropriate verb to use - he shouldered him aside and headed the ball into the goal; he minuted the discussion). The true English adverbs are a closed class or marked with a functional morpheme (usually -ly) - he sidled slowly, crablike, into the room.

Thus here... Yesterday, today and tomorrow are nouns that can act as complete noun phrases as they are reductions of forms that include a determiner. See e.g.

In general, (prepositional) noun phrases can act adjectivally and adverbially, and in particular when the noun is already marked for place or time, the preposition and/or article can often be omitted as definiteness is understood, particularly in sequences of places and/or events. In journalism and diaries, place, time and byline conventionally omit the propositions. It is not so much that there is anything special about *day (except you normally won't add another determiner to today/tomorrow/yesterday as complete deictic noun phrases centred on the time of speaking/writing). When you do add a determiner it recentres the deixis (which is an attribute describing a word that locates something in the space-time context).

  • Sunday, I visited some museums.
  • London, I was exhausted after the flight, but Edinburgh, I visited every museum.
  • London Sunday, another explosion rocked the underground as evening commuters...

  • all my tomorrows will be spent with you!

  • every tomorrow is a new day!
  • the tomorrow I'm looking for ...
  • my tomorrow isn't looking too promising!

  • all my yesterdays are as nothing now I have met you!

  • yesterday evening's train ...
  • last night's train ...
  • yesterday's events ...
  • the week's events ...
  • this week's evening events ...

In speech when a multiword noun phrase is used as an adjective rather than a single adjective, the extra words are conventionally hyphenated prefixes in written form to show that the additional words are not modifiers of the main noun, but of the adjectival noun (unless there is no difference in semantics):

  • early Iron-Age artefacts
  • an in-your-face kind of guy
  • an on-the-ball comment
  • a last minute decision

The last example is sufficiently frozen that it is still common without the hyphen although it does now occur with the hyphen. The more extreme version of this wordifying push is when the hyphen/space gets dropped completely as has happened with today, tomorrow and yesterday. 30 years ago it was most often 'to-day', and 50 years ago even 'to day' and 100 years or more ago 'the day' or 'this day' (sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; give us this day our daily bread) - this has changed twice during my lifetime!


"Yesterday" and "Tomorrow" can be used as nouns or adverbs.For example: Yesterday is Sunday. (noun) I saw him in Lan Anh Hotel Yesterday. (adverbs)

  • 2
    Yesterday is Sunday (?) Grammatically, maybe, but not logically. Why did you write yesterday with a capital letter, in your second example? There are other mistakes, mainly formatting, in your posted answer which you probably missed. You can always edit and improve the quality of your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 26, 2013 at 9:22

In I will go there yesterday, "yesterday" answers to the question "when?", therefore it's an adverb. We are talking about yesterday, the question is "what?" (About what are we talking?) - it's a noun. I am reading yesterday paper, "yesterday" becomes an adjective, as it answers the question "What kind of paper?" From personal learning and then teaching experience.

  • 2
    There is no such thing as a “yesterday newspaper”.
    – tchrist
    Apr 11, 2013 at 10:52
  • 1
    But someone might describe a phone (like, say the Nokia 1202) with "That is so yesterday!" which is presumably an adjective. But yes, yesterday can't be used attributively as "a yesterday phone"; it would be "yesterday's phone" (extending the use of yesterday in this case)
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 11, 2013 at 11:07
  • 3
    I will go there yesterday requires time travel! I will go is future; yesterday is in the past! Also, you can't say yesterday paper: it should be yesterday's paper - the paper issued yesterday. And it does NOT answer the question "What kind of paper?": it answers the question "Which paper?"
    – TrevorD
    May 11, 2013 at 16:50

I think that the word yesterday is considered as an adjective e.x yesterday evening like last evening.The word last is an adjective so yesterday is an adjective

  • 2
    I think you’ll find that yesterday is there functioning as an attributive noun, not as an adjective. Compare yesterday’s newspaper, which is legal and normal, with the invalid *yesterday newspaper.
    – tchrist
    Dec 25, 2013 at 17:27
  • 1
    The fact that ‘last’ is an adjective does not mean ‘yesterday’ has to be. ‘This’, ‘any’, and ‘an’ are not adjectives, but you can replace ‘last’ or ‘yesterday’ with any one of them. Dec 25, 2013 at 23:16
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    Hello, and Welcome to EL&U. We like answers to be fact based, not solely opinion based, and as such, love to see links to sources which support your answer. Dec 26, 2013 at 10:10

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