2

It may sound like a silly question, but here's a sentence

The unusual deal began last February. Amidst breaking news about Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, fleeing Ukraine, a clipped, mechanical sound from his mobile phone alerted an OCCRP reporter to a new message.

(from here)

The interesting part is that the text is published in July 2014. How come February 2014 is "last" from the standpoint of July 2014? Shouldn't it be called "this" February whereas "last" February would've meant February 2013?

3

Collins Dictionary says "You use last in expressions such as last Friday, last night, and last year to refer, for example, to the most recent Friday, night, or year."
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online says "Last is most recent or nearest to the present time".

This means "last February" is not "last year's February", "last February" is "the most recent February", and in July 2014 the most recent February was February 2014.

As for this February, Collins dictionary says (meaning 8) "You use this to refer to the next occurrence in the future of a particular day, month, season, or festival."

We're getting married this June.

It means that from the standpoint of June 2014 "this February" would mean February 2015.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online puts it a bit differently: "This is used to talk about the present time or a time that is close to the present" which means that "this February" would mean "February 2014" since it is the closest February to June 2014.
Anyway, "last February" is February 2014.

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1

We use last (as in last year) when we refer to things that happened previously and recently (not long ago). Whereas we use this (as in this year) when we talk about a time period which is still going on. Consider these:

I went to Miami last year. (= I went to Miami the very previous year)

I went to Miami this year. (= I went to Miami this year [the year which is still going on])

In other words, “this” can be used to mean something which is going to happen in the near future (when the future tense and the present tense are involved) or has already happened [when the past tense is involved] in the time period which is still going on. Consider this:

I am going to the church this week. (= I haven’t gone to the church yet but I will this week)

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