For example:

Yesterday was great.

When we say yesterday, we refer the day before today. Why can’t it be pronoun instead of noun?

According to Longman dictionary tomorrow, yesterday, today can be just noun and adverb. According to the definition of pronouns:

“A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun in a sentence. Pronouns are used to avoid repeating the same nouns over and over again. ... Common pronouns include I, me, mine, she, he, it, we, and us”

Here we refer to yesterday that has a name and I think it should be pronoun.


On Tuesday, "yesterday" substitutes for the word "Monday". On Thursday, "yesterday" means "Wednesday". But the general concept of "yesterday" isn't either of those, and the noun "yesterday" really doesn't have any other name. I don't think it substitutes for any other noun.

Compare to the pronoun "it" which can substitute for a huge variety of different nouns:

"the pizza"- It is delicious.

"the cat" - It scratched me.

"World War I" - It didn't end all wars after all.

But contrast a different pronoun, "I": What noun does "I" substitute for? When George says it, it substitutes for the noun, "George". When Andrea says it, it substitutes for "Andrea", etc. but that's all. The general concept of "I" doesn't really possess another word for it. This is a lot like the situation of "yesterday" which can substitute for 7 different nouns, but that's all...

So I am beginning to see your point. If "I" is a pronoun, why isn't "yesterday"?

In English, we categorize "I" as a pronoun, but not "yesterday". I think it is just that arbitrary.

However, is there anything that would change about English usage if "yesterday" were a pronoun (instead of a noun)? Most of the grammar rules I can think of involving nouns/pronouns lump them together anyway as, "a noun or a pronoun." E.g. "an adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun."

In short, English grammar isn't really a science. Some of its rules don't have reasons or explanations: "that's just the way we say it". And for parts of speech, that's just what we call them.

But I like the question.

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There's many categories of pronouns, but the possible antecedents are limited typically in only one of two ways:

  • Pronouns that can refer to people or a neuter gender (subject, object, possessive)

  • Pronouns that refer to things/groups and not people (demonstrative, some, any, all)

These are extremely broad categories. In some languages that assign a gender to all nouns, even these two distinctions don't strongly exist.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow can only be replaced by a date. So they can be considered to not be in the same category as pronouns.

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