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I read this sentence in a book:

He has been unconscious since late on the previous Saturday evening.

I am wondering about this construction. I thought it should be "since late the previous Saturday evening." Is the sentence from the book grammatical? Similar examples or reference to other pages would be very helpful.

Here's the original text:

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  • Yes, "late on the previous evening" is not idiomatic. Is this from a textbook or some other source?
    – Andrew
    Feb 22, 2018 at 2:58
  • @Andrew It's from Newton: A Very Short Introduction. I can totally see it used as a college science/philosophy textbook.
    – Eddie Kal
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:05
  • Is this from Isaac Newton's own writings then? If so it may simply be archaic language, since Newton lived and wrote several hundred years ago.
    – Andrew
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:07
  • @Andrew Nope. The author Rob Iliffe wrote it. I will snap a shot and put it up in the question.
    – Eddie Kal
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:10
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    It's a mystery to me then, Perhaps he didn't have a very good editor? But the context must be unusual, since it's written in the present perfect.
    – Andrew
    Feb 22, 2018 at 3:16

2 Answers 2

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To me this usage of "on" feels incorrect. It would have been fine if the author had left out the preposition entirely,

Unconscious since late the previous Saturday evening, Sir Isaac Newton.

In any case the context makes more sense now. This is an example of what I think is called a participle phrase, or perhaps just an adjectival phrase. Since the phrase doesn't contain a verb, the tense is implied by context,

Isaac Newton, (the person who has been) unconscious since late the previous evening.

It's possible the author is mixing this with a related expression, "on the evening of ..." This is used to give a time frame to isolated events, but not to events that continue from a particular moment in time.

Isaac Newton died late on the evening of March 20th ...

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  • It's a little unusual to connect both "since late" and "on" to an evening, but one can certainly say "since late on [specific entire day]". For example, in Tom Clancy's "Into the Storm: A Study in Command" (2007): "Since both these areas were outside VII Corps sector, and had been since late on 25 February, there was nothing we could do to stop the units leaving by that route."
    – Jacob C.
    Sep 16, 2019 at 22:06
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It doesn't sound wrong to me [dialect: U.S. English]. To compare a simpler sentence:

  • It happened on Saturday evening.

is quite natural. Note that it is not

  • *It happened in Saturday evening.

though you would say "it happened in the evening."

Adding "late":

  • It happened late in/*on the evening.
  • It happened late on/*in Saturday evening.

But for

  • It happened late in/on the Saturday evening.

I feel both are acceptable but with is a slightly different emphasis. Similarly:

  • It happened late in/on the evening of July 1.

In emphasizes the lateness within the evening period; on just says it happened (a) late and (b) during the evening of July 1. In practice, there would be few situations where one of these descriptions would be valid and the other would be invalid.

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