Relative Time Expressions

To talk about when something happened or will happen, we often use these relative time expressions. They tell us when the event is or was in relation to now.

Referring to the Past

These past time expressions tell us when something happened in the past. The period of time starts in the present and moves backwards.

now / / / last yesterday this week morning
  • this morning/afternoon/evening
  • yesterday
  • last night
  • last week/month/year
  • a day/week/month/year ago
  • a while ago
  • earlier
  • before

I played tennis last week.

We often use these expressions with the past simple and past continuous tenses.

Referring to the Future

These future time expressions tell us when something will happen in the future. The period of time starts in the present and moves forwards.

now / / / this tomorrow next afternoon week
  • this morning/afternoon/evening
  • tomorrow
  • next week/month/year
  • in a day/week/month/year
  • in a while
  • later
  • soon

I’m going to play tennis next week.

We use these expressions with future tenses: will, going to, and present continuous.