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I have looked up the phrase some day in many dictionaries and they all say that this phrase means "at some unspecified time in the future". Still, I wonder if the phrase can be used to refer to past time as well. For example, is it okay to write sentences such as:

  • (A) My house was built some day around 1900.
  • (B) I saw him some day last month.
  • (C) Some day a mysterious stranger called at my house.

(I have found a similar question here, in which one of the answers seem to imply that some day can also be used to refer to past time, but there are no examples provided.)

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    (B) sounds okay to me, but (A) and (C) sound off. As for (A), I'd say, "My house was built some time around 1900." As for (C), I'd say, "One day a mysterious stranger called at my house." – J.R. Oct 31 '13 at 17:04
  • Thanks! What about this one: "I met him some day in 1990"? – Maximin Oct 31 '13 at 17:20
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    I don't think you need any mention of day in a sentence like that. "I met him in 1990" works just fine. If less sure of the year, I would say, "I met him sometime around 1990." (Note that sometime is one word in that context) – J.R. Oct 31 '13 at 17:31
  • How is sometime in your last comment different from some time in your first comment? Does some time refer to a period of time and sometime refer to a point of time? – Maximin Oct 31 '13 at 17:43
  • Yes, exactly that. – J.R. Oct 31 '13 at 17:57
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Short answer: No. "Some day" refers to the future.

I think most English speakers would say that (c) is just wrong. It doesn't make sense, precisely because it breaks the "future" rule of the idiom.

(a) and (b) are acceptable, but that's because they are not really using the idiom, they just looks like the idiom. You're pulling two words out of the middle of a sentence that match an idiom, but it's not really being used the same way. If that's not clear, consider the phrase, "Something came up." This is a common idiom that means, "some event happened or is expected to happen that interferes with previous plans". Like, "I'm sorry, I was planning to attend your party, but something came up." Now consider the sentence, "We forced air in to the bottom of the well, and something came up the pipe." That includes the words "something came up", but clearly we are not using those words in the idiomatic sense. Here we mean them literally, and it is just a coincidence that they look like the idiom. Same thing with sentences (a) and (b). You're not saying, "I saw him some day" in the same sense that you would say "I will see him again some day", and then clarifying that that day was last month. Rather, you literally mean that there was a particular day last month, some day, when you saw him. Similarly for (a).

As JR says, (a) sounds awkward because it looks too close to the idiom, and thus is confusing. I think most English speakers would say "some time around 1900".

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