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Does Late Wednesday night mean last Wednesday night or on Wednesday this week, but in the late night? The translation tells me that the first explanation is right, but I cannot find a relative explanation in the dictionary.

The dictionary says: late is used to refer to the part near the end of a period of time, and has some examples:

a late eighteenth century building

in the late 1980s

So, which meaning is correct?

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Minor point: I would word it as, "on Wednesday this week, but late night", or even, "on Wednesday this week, close to midnight." The phrase "in the late night" is not incorrect, but it sounds a little off. –  J.R. Dec 16 '13 at 15:20
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@J.R. I would probably still use “late Wednesday night” to refer to the early parts of Thursday morning (i.e. not necessarily “close to midnight”). In my experience, in common speech, the day doesn’t really end at midnight but rather at some more personally-relevant time, like when you go to sleep or wake up, or when it gets to be really late and you give up the ghost and admit you’re not sleeping tonight. –  KRyan Dec 16 '13 at 15:23
    
@J.R. I don't often disagree with JR, but I must here: "late night" is a very common phrase, I don't know why you would say it "sounds a little off". Perhaps this is a US/UK/India/Australia/wherever thing: I'm speaking as an American. –  Jay Dec 16 '13 at 15:42
    
@KRyan - "close to midnight" could refer to around midnight in either direction. I agree with you that "last Wednesday night" often overlaps with "early Thursday morning," especially conversationally. –  J.R. Dec 16 '13 at 17:06
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@Jay - I agree that "late night" is common; in fact, I used it in my example rewording. My issue was with "in the late night," with emphasis on the in the part. I've heard "late night", "late into the night", "late in the night," but "in the late night" sounds a bit unnatural. –  J.R. Dec 16 '13 at 17:09
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It would depend on context. Typically though, at the very least the phrase is referring to 'late in the night on a Wednesday'. In general, Late Wednesday night without any additional qualifiers could refer to any number of Wednesdays, though. It could refer to last Wednesday (the most recent Wednesday in the past), late at night. It could refer to the next upcoming Wednesday, late at night. It could also refer to any Wednesday in the past or future, at late at night on that day.

Some examples:

"How was your week?" asked Sam. "It was good. Though late Wednesday night John and I went to a party; just to find that it had been cancelled..." replied Jake.

In this case, the speaker is referring to the most recent Wednesday. Context is provided by the question posed by Sam. Even without that question, Jake's response uses the past tense, implying that a past Wednesday is being referred to.

"Three years ago, on a late Wednesday night, there was a murder in this apartment."

In this case, the speaker is referring to a Wednesday night from three years ago.

"In three weeks, late Wednesday night, we are having a party at my house."

In this case, the speaker is referring to a Wednesday night three weeks from now.

In all cases, the only thing that changes is which Wednesday is being referred to. The 'late' and 'night' only refer to what time of the day is being discussed rather than which day it is.

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It means "Wednesday night, at a late hour". Not even necessarily this Wednesday - this is not specified. It's the same phrasing as in the dictionary and I don't think "late" ever means "last" like you implied.

Possibly you confused it with "latest", which would mean "last" but used mostly with events marking time, not with common day/month/etc ("during the latest Burning Man fair, last August" - you wouldn't say "latest August").

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I agree. It means at a late hour, on a Wednesday night. Unless a context is given by MarkZar, it is not possible to know which Wednesday is being talked about because, one has not been mentioned. –  Tristan Dec 16 '13 at 14:07
    
Whether it is the most recently past Wednesday, some earlier Wednesday, or a future Wednesday for that matter, would depend on the larger context. Or all of the above: Someone might say, "We always hold our meetings late Wednesday night of every week." –  Jay Dec 16 '13 at 15:40
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Late Wednesday night meaning is closer to on Wednesday this week, but in the late night.

Regarding the other two examples, they can be rephrased as a building built in the end of the eighteenth century and in the end of 1980s.

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I find the first line misleading. “Late Wednesday night” on its own probably does refer to the most recent Wednesday past (which may either be this week’s or last week’s), but it isn’t related to the “late” modifier, merely the general norm in English. I.e. if you said “on Wednesday” without other context I would assume you meant the most recent Wednesday past (time of day unspecified), so adding “late” only specifies time of day, without adding more specificity to which day. –  KRyan Dec 16 '13 at 15:21
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