Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 37: What's Next?

"Do we have plans next Saturday?"
"The 15th?"
"No, no — I mean next Saturday. The 22nd."
"That's two Saturdays from now. Next Saturday is the 15th."
"No... the 15th is this Saturday."
Next and this: One might not think this is an important matter, but it turns out it's one of those items that can stand in the way of clear communication.

John Nicholson works in IT here at Minnesota Public Radio, and he brought this subject to our attention. Here's what he told us:
"My friend says that this weekend means the 15th and 16th, and next weekend means the 22nd and 23rd. Same thing for days of the week (this Friday is tomorrow and next Friday is a week from tomorrow). I say that this weekend and next weekend mean the same thing — the 15th and 16th — and next and this Friday both mean tomorrow. I ask because I've had this discussion with many people, and about half agree with me and half do not. Is it just a personal preference?"
Naturally, the excellent reference book Fowler's Modern English Usage has an entry about next and this. Here's what it says—it's on page 521 for those of you following along at home:
"In normal use, if said or written early in a given week, next Friday means the immediately following Friday in the same week. Similarly next June means the first June following the date on which it is mentioned."
But before anyone starts considering the matter of "right" and "wrong," Fowler's continues:
"In Scotland and also in some northern dialects of England, next is employed to designate the days of the following week: thus next Friday, the Friday of next week, is contrasted with this Friday, that of the present week."
Nicholson encounters this disparity between next and this among his family and friends—none of whom are from Scotland. But it's not surprising to find a mash-up of different language habits within the United States, where John lives.

Ultimately, Fowler's recommends that when making an arrangement or organizing a meeting for next Friday, simply include the date in your sentence. That tends to clear up any confusion.
"Let's go to the play next Saturday, March 22nd."
"Sounds great!"

Source: Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield.

Music from this Episode: "Next Year" by Foo Fighters; "This Time" by INXS.

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