Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This has actually happened with me! This is the conversation I had with my teammate:

Scene 1 (11 am):

"Well, this is to be finished earliest possible."
"Okay Maulik, this'll be done. It's easy. I'll do it in one day."
"Are you sure because I think it's a bit lengthy work."
"Ah, don't worry. As I said, I'll do it in one day."

When I was leaving my premises, the work did not happen. And, I went home (from where I do work). At 10 pm, I got a mail from my teammate and the work was finished.

Scene 2 (10 pm):

"Maulik, I sent you mail. The work is done."
"Well, but you said you'll do it in one day."
"Exactly, the day is not over yet! It's the same day right? Monday! I never let Tuesday happen!"

And, I was speechless, thought for a while and agreed!

Is this the flaw in the language or is it something else? Of course if someone is completing the task in one day, it's in a few hours i.e. before the dusk but then Monday remains Monday till midnight.

share|improve this question
2  
The stipulation "in one day" can mean any of these, to list but a few: "within 24 hrs from now", "before the close of business today", "before the sun goes down today," "before the sun goes down tomorrow", or "before midnight tonight". Without further clarification, the phrase is inherently ambiguous to a high degree. –  J.R. Mar 18 at 11:02
2  
Since it's relevant to all the existing answers but isn't an answer on its own, I'll just leave this here: If you expect a task to be done by the time you go home when the office closes, the correct term is "close of business" on the relevant day. So far as I know, this construction would be understood in any industry, even if it isn't common. –  Jonathan Garber Mar 18 at 16:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I'm an American and the way your coworker used the term "One Day" sounds perfectly reasonable. Day can mean 24 hours or it can mean within one specific day (i.e. Monday). This means that the day ends at midnight. Your colleague apparently felt that to keep the promise they needed to be finished before midnight. I agree.

It is not common to use day to mean only daylight hours. Day also includes the evening and up until midnight.

Even if your team mate meant one workday there is no reason that they had to quit when you did. So their workday was longer than yours. Still good.

So I do think your team mate did finish in "one day".

share|improve this answer
    
+1 this sounds better. Thank you. –  Maulik V Mar 18 at 10:58
6  
RE: It is not common to use day to mean only daylight hours. This depends entirely on the environment. If an office worker is talking about what he can finish by the end of the day, the day might end when the worker goes home. If a farmer is talking about how much he can harvest by the end of the day, the day might end when the sun goes down. If a car dealership is talking about how many cars they can sell in a day, the day ends when the dealership closes. And if a hospital is keeping track of how many patients are admitted before the end of the day, perhaps the day ends at midnight. –  J.R. Mar 18 at 16:36

There's not a flaw in the language, there's a flaw in your conclusion:

Of course if someone is completing the task in one day, it's in a few hours i.e. before the dusk but then Monday remains Monday till midnight.

Of course? No, on the contrary! Let's go back to the original dialog:

"Well, this is to be finished earliest possible."
"Okay Maulik, this'll be done. It's easy. I'll do it in one day."
"Are you sure because I think it's a bit lengthy work."
"Ah, don't worry. As I said, I'll do it in one day."

There are multiple ambiguities in that last statement.

First, there is the meaning of in, which could mean at least two things in this context:

  • 1) "in" could mean "within": I'll do this within one day, or, I'll do this before one day has elapsed
  • 2) "in" could mean "in a duration of no more than a day": After I get underway, I can complete this in one day or less

Then there is the meaning of day, which can take on even more meanings:

  • a) "day" could refer to a workday - which generally ends around 5PM, give or take
  • b) "day" could refer to a calendar day - which ends at midnight
  • c) "day" could refer to a 24-hour period - which, in your scenario, would end at 11AM on Tuesday
  • d) "day" could refer to a man-day - which is comprised of 8 man-hours, or the amount of work one person can complete during 8 hours on the job.
  • e) "day" could refer to daylight hours - which would end around sunset

Based on the remarks in your question, you seemed to assume that "in one day" meant either either Meaning (1a) - i.e., before one workday has elapsed:

When I was leaving my premises, the work did not happen

or else Meaning (1e) - i.e., while it is still daylight outside

Of course if someone is completing the task in one day, it's in a few hours i.e. before the dusk

when in fact your colleague seems to have been referring to meaning (1b) - i.e., before the clock strikes midnight):

The day is not over yet! It's the same day right? Monday!

The truth is, had my coworker told me that he would complete a task "in one day", I would ask for clarification. Your initial assumptions valid; so was your co-worker's interpretation. Yet you could have the same conversation tomorrow with another co-worker - word for word - and "I'll do it in one day" could mean something else, such as:

  • Meaning (1c) - I'll have it done before this same time tomorrow: 11AM Tuesday
  • Meaning (2a) - I'll start this tomorrow morning as soon as I get in, and have it finished before I go home: 5PM Tuesday
  • Meaning (2e) - I'll start working on it this afternoon, and have it finished by the end of the week, but I won't spend more than 8 hours working on it: 5PM on Friday (the rest of my work week will be spent doing other tasks: performing other assigned duties, going to meetings, etc.)

In other words, at 11AM on Monday, someone can pledge to do something for me "in one day", and then can get it done by closing time, or by sunset, or by 11AM the next day, or by closing time the next day, or even by closing time at the end of the week, and still have done exactly what they pledged they would do.

None of those interpretations are unreasonable or far-fetched, particularly in an office environment. (The end-of-the-week interpretation might be a little unlikely, given that you said, "This is to be finished as soon as possible" Still, depending on the other person's responsibilities, that might be the only plausible interpretation. Also, by the time the sun goes down would probably not be relevant in an office, but it might be in, say, a landscaping business.)

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 I've seen a lot of good answers on ell, but this one is exceptional. –  David Hall Mar 18 at 16:53
    
I have to agree--this is one of the best answers I've seen on ELL in a while. –  snailboat Mar 22 at 10:48

I think in most cases like that, if someone were to say:

"Yes, I'll have it finished in one day."

It would be assumed that the work would be finished by some point the next day (normally before 24 hours has actually elapsed.)

However, normally people would say:

"Yes, I'll have it done/finished by tomorrow (morning/afternoon)."

share|improve this answer
    
No. To emphasize on the number of days, this was spoken. I expected that work would take 3 days and thus the number 3 was to be taken as a challenge. Had it been, when would you finish this task?, I guess he'd have answered by tomorrow. –  Maulik V Mar 18 at 9:59
    
You didn't specify that, nor what time this conversation took place. Only when you were sent the mail at 10pm, so I dealt with the ambiguity. I'm not quite sure what the question is now? –  RayB151 Mar 18 at 10:03
    
the conversation happened at 11 am. –  Maulik V Mar 18 at 10:15
4  
@MaulikV it seems like you don't want to learn how a native speaker interprets "in one day" but instead are looking for someone to agree with your interpretation of the phrase. As J.R says, it is ambiguous, and I agree with Ray that the most common interpretation is by some point the next day. –  David Hall Mar 18 at 12:20

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.