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"Wish McGonagall favored us," said Harry. Professor McGonagall was head of Gryffindor House, but it hadn't stopped her from giving them a huge pile of homework the day before.

–– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The day before last is two days ago. Is the day before the same expression with the said, or is it yesterday?

  • This simply means yesterday, yes. – Ingmar Dec 10 '13 at 11:30
4

The day before is the way we backshift yesterday into the past tense. The same template is used for other temporal expressions which ordinarily take Speech Time as their Reference Time: last night, tomorrow, last week, next week and so forth, using the T before (T representing a unit of time such as day or week) or a T earlier for expressions designating an earlier time or date and the T after or a T later for expressions designating a later time.

In your passage for instance, the day before means the day before the day Harry expressed this wish. At the time, Harry would have said "She gave us a huge pile of homework yesterday".

If this passage had occurred two days after the homework was assigned, Harry would have said "She gave us a huge pile of homework day before yesterday" and JKR would have report it as "It hadn't stopped her from giving them a huge pile of homework two days before", or "two days earlier".

  • Is there no need of an article: a huge pile of homework [the] day before yesterday? – Listenever Dec 10 '13 at 12:56
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    @Listenever Not ordinarily. There's only one each of yesterday, day before yesterday, tomorrow, etc, so in effect it's a name. – StoneyB Dec 10 '13 at 13:21
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    I think the article thing might be regional. I'd understand it without the article, but I do expect it (my brain automatically added it in when I was reading your answer; I didn't notice until I looked back after reading the comments!). I can see the the being elided if you're speaking quickly or casually, but (at least where I'm from) the the is usually included. +1 regardless; great answer! (cc @Listenever) – WendiKidd Dec 13 '13 at 23:30

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