Absolute Time

第63課: Absolute Time

Absolute time expressions are time expressions understood to refer to a specific time frame with the present set as the standard point of reference. They are generally adverbial nouns, meaning they either function as nouns or adverbs depending on context. Particle usage is most affected by this fluctuation in part of speech.  


The following chart showcases only the most basic absolute time expressions which are used in daily conversation. After some examples, we will then move on with learning about the many other words that are available.

 時間帯 2…ago Last… This… Next… 2…later
 Dayおととい きのう きょう あした あさって
 Morning おとといの朝きのうの朝けさ 明日の朝あさっての朝
 Eveningおとといの夕方 昨晩 今晩明日の晩あさっての夕方
 Nightおとといの夜きのうの夜 今夜明日の夜あさっての夜 
 Week 先々週先週 今週  来週 再来週
 Month  先々月先月 今月 来月 再来月
 Yearおととし 去年ことし 来年再来年

Example Sentences

1. 昨夜、10た。
I went to sleep at 10 last night.

2. アニメクラブは7時から零時れいじまでです。
 Anime club is from 7 to midnight.  

3. きのう仕事を休みました。
I took a break from work yesterday.

4. 彼女は一昨年生まれました。
She was born the year before last.

5. 翌日の授業じゅぎょう予習よしゅうをする。
To prepare for the next day’s lessons.

6. 今朝はたいそう寒かったですね。
This morning was quite cold, wasn’t it? 

7. この前の火曜日におもしろい映画えいがを見ましたよ。
I saw an interesting movie last Tuesday!

8. 明日の朝8時にこしてください。
Please wake me up at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.

9. その人は瞬時          しゅんじに(して)さるになった。
 That person became a monkey in an instant. 

10. 「今年ことしふゆさむくなるでしょうか」「天気予報てんきよほうを見ていないので寒いかどうか分かりません」
“Will this winter be cold?” “I don’t know whether or not it’s going to be cold in the weather forecast.”


Absolute time expressions in the spoken language are dominated by native vocabulary with some important exceptions such as 今週 (next week) and 来年 (next year), which are Sino-Japanese in origin. What becomes obvious with a strong knowledge in Sino-Japanese roots is that it is very common for different Kanji to be synonymous yet different somehow. Keep this in mind as we continue.

To simplify explanations, the following three conventions will be employed.

1. Variants are listed in order by most to least frequent.
2. ▽ indicates a rare reading even for the written language.
3. All words not listed in the introductory chart are implied to be primarily used in the written language unless stated otherwise.
4. ひらがな is used instead of Kanji spellings in charts to avoid ambiguity.
5. At times, certain relative time expressions will be discussed for comparison.

こ(の) VS 今~・本~・当~: This~

The prefixes 今(こん)~ and 本(ほん)~ both stand for “this” when paired with temporal nouns. Whereas 今~ only attaches to temporal nouns, 本~ can attach to an array of nouns in which it implies that it concerns the speaker. This nuancing extends into its use with temporal nouns.

当~ similarly means “this” as “the… in question,” so when paired with time phrases, the exact time period is subject to context. This means that unlike the other phrases, it creates relative time phrases.

Native Word今~本~当~
This Day (=Today) きょうこんにち
こんじつ ▽
This Morningけさこんちょう ▽
This Eveningこの夕方
This Night (=Tonight)この夜今夜当夜
This Weekこの週今週当週
This Monthこの月今月本月当月
This Yearことしこんねん本年当年

・今日(きょう): This word appears to not follow any pattern, but that is because it is the contraction of two very familiar words – こ (this) and 日 (day)- but with ancient variants of words which are no longer used – け+ふ > きょう .
The emphatic form 今日{の・という}日 also exists. Also, この日 does also exist with the literal meaning of “this day.”
・今日(こんにち): Best known for its use in こんにちは, this reading may be more commonly found with the meaning of “these days/nowadays” (ex. 今日の世界 = the world nowadays).
・今日(こんじつ): This reading is unheard of to many speakers, and this is because it has long fallen out of use. Its mentioning is to answer the question as to why it is still listed in dictionaries.
・本日(ほんじつ): Also frequently heard in the spoken language when attempting to be formal, this variant implies that the speaker is personally involved in the matter at hand.
・当日(とうじつ): This word is not restricted to the written language, but rather, it is the Sino-Japanese synonym of その日, meaning “the day of,” which in recounting a story can be very similar to “today” as it is moving the reference point in time to that moment as if it were the present.

■This Morning
・今朝(けさ): This word is most likely the combination of an ancient variant of こ (this) combined with 朝 (morning). It is used primarily in both spoken and written language.
・今朝(こんちょう): This reading is only encountered in incredibly stiff texts. Though it would seem as though 本朝 ought to be synonymous, this instead means “this dynasty.”

■This Evening
・この夕方: This is actually the most common means of sayin “this evening” in the spoken language. This is because 晩 is infrequently used in isolation; however, きょうの晩 may also be used.
・今晩(こんばん): Its formality is what makes it so common in the expression こんばんは as well as other similar salutary exchanges. Aside from such contexts, though, it is more common for people to use 今夜.
・今宵(こよい): 宵 specifically means “early night hours.” 今宵 is very poetic and frequently seen in literature and music. It and 今年 are the only extant time phrases which allow for こ (this) to attach to another noun without using the particle の – excluding 今日 and 今朝 as involving a rare variant following the same principle.
・今夕(こんせき): This word is quite rare, and it also has a rarer reading of こんゆう, which is itself a contraction of この夕 as opposed to being a mixture of Sino-Japanese and native words. 夕 is another word for “evening,” but it is restricted to set phrases such as 朝な夕な (morning and evening) and 夕暮れ (dusk).

・この夜: This phrase is used to literally mean “this night.” You may also hear 今日の夜, which is the same as saying, “today at night.”
・今夜(こんや): This is the preferred means of saying “tonight” in conversation.
・当夜(とうや): “Tonight” or “that night (in question),” its interpretation is subject to context.

■This Week
・今週(こんしゅう): This is the primary word for “this week.”
・この週: Although possible, it will always in context refer to a specific week of the month/year. Similarly, この一週間 means “this period of a week,” which does get used frequently.
・当週(とうしゅう): Unused in the spoken language meaning either “this week” or “that week (in question),” its interpretation is subject to context.

■This Month
・この月: This phrase is used to literally mean “this month.”
・今月(こんげつ): This is the preferred means of saying “this month” in both spoken and written language.
・本月(ほんげつ): This word is most common in official reporting in both business and government settings.
・当月(とうげつ): “This month” or “that month (in question),” its interpretation is subject to context.

■This Year
・今年(ことし): This is the primary word for “this year.”
・今年(こんねん): This word lacks the personal involvement 本年 implies, so it is best suited for impersonal, third-person, formal writing in which it is still further limited to set expressions such as 今年度 (this fiscal year).
・本年(ほんねん): This word is very common in formal speech in both spoken and written language. It implies that the speaker is personally involved in the matter at hand.
・当年(とうねん): “This year” or “that year (in question),” its interpretation is subject to context.

来~・明~・明日の VS (この)次の: Next

The Kanji 来 and 明 in temporal phrases both end up translating as “next,” but whereas 来(らい)~ cannot be used for time periods which happen within a day, and the latter 明(みょう)~ indicates when one time ends and the next begins.

Because 明(みょう)is formal with words it creates largely restricted to the written language, its native equivalent which also uses the same Kanji – 明日 – is predominant for time periods which happen in relation to the sun rising and setting.

Then, there is (この)次の. This literally means “(this) next” and is not limited to temporal phrases. The difference between この次の年 and 来年 is that the former would be “this next year” and the latter would just be “next year.” With the existence of the latter, the former is by no means a simple or common replacement but a means of defining the next year.

As another example, consider the difference between 明日の夜 and 次の夜. The former is clearly “tomorrow night,” but tomorrow night is the next night when speaking in the present. This indicates that 次 is just as relative to context as 当~ and only becomes more specific with the addition of この・その. For instance, ”the next night after staying up all night,” is 徹夜した次の夜 as “next” and “after staying up all night” are qualifiers in their own right but relative to context. Absolute phrases like 明日の夜 are specific to their respective time period with the base referent time point being the present.

Now, to say, “this next Monday,” you could use この次の月曜日 or you can opt to use 来週の月曜日 (Monday of next week). The latter will be more common in speech, but in a narration like, “the sentencing was scheduled for the next Monday after this hearing,” この次の月曜日 would appear as the statement is not being made in the present, and it is this point that indicates that 次の is always relative.
As an other example, compare and contrast the following:

i. 来週は空いていますか?
Are you free next week?
ii. その次の週は空いていますか?
Are you free the next/following week?

The difference between absolute time and relative time is quite clear here. Without knowing what else has been mentioned, the exact time period その次の週 is referring to cannot be ascertained.

Out of brevity, non-absolute/relative time expressions such as those made with 次 – although synonymous at some level to the expressions listed – are omitted from the chart below.

Tomorrow Morningあしたの朝
Tomorrow Eveningあしたの夕方
Tomorrow Nightあしたの夜
Next Week来週
Next Month来月
Next Year来年明年▽


・明後(みょうご): This word is seen combined with either 日 or 年 to express the second following occurrence of their respective time period.
・再来(さらい): This prefix can be used with any time period that uses 来~ to express the second following occurrence of said time period. Words made with this are used heavily in the spoken language.
・二日後(ふつかご): Phrases made with “# days later = 〇日後” are technically relative time phrases, but it is most natural in Japanese to describe recurring time periods within a day using this pattern – ex. 四日後の朝 (morning 4 days later). To stay within the realm of absolute time, you would need to use あさって like in あさっての夜 (two nights from now).
・Expressing the relative time equivalent of an absolute time expression requires that you know how to count that time period with the proper counter and then use the suffix ~後 – 再来週 (two weeks from now) vs 二週間後 (two weeks later).

Native Word再来~明後~
2 Days from Nowあさってみょうごにち
2 Mornings from Nowあさっての朝
2 Evenings from Nowあさっての夕方
2 Nights from Nowあさっての夜
2 Weeks from Now再来週
2 Months from Now再来月
2 Years from Now再来年明後年


As can be observed from how there are very few absolute time phrases that relate to anything beyond “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” it may strike the mind as strange that Japanese does, in fact, have absolute time phrases for “3 days from now” and “4 days from now.”

3 Days From Nowしあさってみょうみょうごにち明々後日
4 Days From Nowやのあさってみょうみょうみょうごにち明々々後日

Although these are the Standard Japanese expressions, there is heavy dialectal variation, some of which is just as mainstream.

・In East Japan north of Tokyo, しあさって and やのあさって are flipped. In West Japan, やのあさって is replaced with ごあさって for “4 days later.”
・In Mie Prefecture – located in the middle of these regions – the pattern goes きょう・あした・あさって・ささって・しあさって・ごあさって.
・In West Japan, “3 days later” was originally 再明後日 with the reading of 再 changing from さ to し. Then, 五明後日 is “4 days later” because if the present day is counted as Day 1, then Day 5 is equal to four days later. In East Japan, 弥の明後日 already existed for the day after 明後日=3日後. So, as usage of しあさって spread, the meaning of 弥の明後日 shifted to mean “4 days later,” which is how the standard interpretations came about.

There is a relative time means of avoiding these phrases with the help of 翌~ (the following) and 翌々 (the following, following), which are the relative time equivalents of 来~ and 再来~ respectively.

Exs. 翌日 (the next day), 翌々日 (the day after the next), 今日の翌々日 = あさって, 明日の翌日 = あさって, 翌週 (the following week), 翌年 (the next year).

翌 and 翌々 may even follow a date to express “the following…” and “the second following…”

Ex. 翌々2016年 (the year 2016, two years hence)

先~・昨~・きのうの VS この前の: LAST

先~ is the primary prefix for creating absolute time phrases for the immediately previous time period specified from the present. There are exceptions, however, which require circumventing.

For “yesterday,” 昨日 is used, which is read as either さくじつ or きのう. The former is used in the written language, and きのう is used in the spoken language. きのう is also what allows the formation of absolute time phrases that occur within the day – ex. きのうの夜 (yesterday night). 先日 would mean “the other day” and 先夜 would mean “the other night.”

For “last year,” 去年 is used. This word has two readings: きょねん and こぞ. Ironically, it is the native phrase こぞ which has faded into nonuse. 先年 would mean “year(s) beforehand.”

In highly formal written language, 昨~ replaces 先 and 去~. Incidentally, 去~ can be used with other time periods besides 年, but they are very literary. Also contrary to the norm, 昨晩 (yesterday evening) and 昨夜 (yesterday night) are commonly used in the spoken language.

Then, there is (この)前の. This literally means “(this) … before” and is not limited to temporal phrases. The difference between この前の年 and 去年 is that the former would be “this year before last” and the latter would just be “last year.” Thus, this is the means for creating relative time equivalents.

In the chart below, only absolute time expressions are shown. So, although この前の週 (the week before) is synonymous with 先週・昨週, the difference between absolute time and relative time still play out with them just like the other phrases we have seen thus far.

Last Morningきのうの朝
Last Eveningきのうの夕方昨晩
Last Nightきのうの夜
Last Week先週昨週
Last Month先月去月▽昨月
Last Yearこぞ▽去年昨年

・昨 may also be paired with the Kanji for the seasons to produce: 昨春, 昨夏, 昨秋, and 昨冬. In the spoken language, these would all be 去年の~ – 去年の秋 (last fall).
・夕べ may specifically mean “last evening,” especially when describing events.

2…Before Last

おととい & おととし: おととい is the native word for “the day before yesterday,” while similarly, おととし is the native word for “the year before last.”
一昨(いっさく): This is the Sino-Japanese means of creating “2…ago” expressions, but for “weeks” and “months” it is replaced with 先々.
先々(せんせん): Incidentally, this is only used for “weeks” and “months.”
二〇〇前: By using ~前 with the appropriate counter, you get the relative time expressions for “two…ago” – 二日前の夜 (two nights ago), 二週間前 (two weeks ago), etc.

Native Word一昨~先々~
The Day Before Yesterdayおととい一昨日
Morning Before Lastおとといの朝一昨朝
Evening Before Lastおとといの夕方一昨晩
Night Before Lastおとといの夜一昨夜
Week Before Last先々週
Month Before Last先々月
The Year Before Lastおととし一昨年

一昨々いっさくさく~ for Sino-Japanese vocabulary and さきおとと~ for native vocabulary may be applied to “days” and “years” only to express absolute time versions for “three days ago” – 一昨々日(さきおととい ・いっさくさくじつ ▽) – and “three years ago” – 一昨々年(さきおととし・いっさくさくねん▽)- respectively.

Number of Times (Frequency)

Times (Frequency): The Counters ~度 VS ~

Many Japanese speakers will say that  一度いちど and 一回いっかい are the same, but they actually differentiate them. First, consider the following sentence where they are completely interchangeable. 

11. 私はあの本を{2度・2回}読んだ。
I read that book twice.

12. {2度・2回}目の不渡ふわた
Second bouncing/non-payment

Despite the fact that they both count the number of times an action occurs, there are instances where you choose them liberally. One restriction is that ~度 can’t be used with だい~ or ぜん~. ~度 is also not used with decimals. 

13. 6回連続れんぞく参加さんかしている。(6回 → 6度 X)
I’ve been participated six times consecutively.

14. 今年はまつりが2度ある。(2度 → 2回 ?)
This year, the festival will come twice.

15. 第4回の関係閣僚協議かんけいかくりょうきょうぎ (第4度 X)
The fourth relations cabinet conference

16. 平均週3.7回
An average of 3.7 times a week 

17. ぜん20回のセミナー
All 20 seminars 

18. 2度の体験たいけんをよい経験としてかす。(2回 ?)
To use the second experience as a good lesson. 

When the number is more than 10, some of these restrictions go away. It’s also interesting to note that ~度目 is used twice as much as ~回目. Remember that example with 6回連続? Something like 5年連続100度目 would be completely fine. For instances where they are interchangeable, 回 is more common. However, 度 is particularly common with the number 2. Also, as the number gets larger, 回 is less frequent. So, if a headline were to have “third non-payment” in it, odds are that it would have 3回. If a company somehow did this for the 15th time, we would expect to see 度.

When counting the frequency/repetition of an action in a particular time frame, use ~回. This is in terms of years, days, etc. and doesn’t take on details such as minutes, etc. In such case, you’d expect 度. Something like 月に三度 is possible, but this doesn’t show frequency.

19. 毎年、この村では祭りを3回行います。
We have festivals three times annually in this village.

~度 would count repetition that is uncertain and or irregular. Other expressions that deal with series or segmenting statistically prefer ~回. One last thing to consider is that ~度 is often used in regards to things that are hard to predict and ~回 is preferred overwhelmingly when the number of times of something can be known beforehand.

20. 10度目の優勝ゆうしょう目指めざす。
To aim for the tenth victory.

21. 3年連続れんぞく3度優勝ゆうしょう
The third consecutive victory in three years

Frequency Note: Remember that ~度目 is generally twice as common as ~回.

22. 4度目の復活ふっかつは難しい。 
A fourth restoration is difficult.

23. 3回めのセミナー
The third seminar

24. 6回目の核実験かくじっけん
The sixth nuclear tests after restart