Sentence: Scientists have predicted that a large earthquake will hit western Japan before the end of the decade.

The word "decade" has the meaning of "a period of ten years", so does the sentence mean that in less than 10 years there might be an earthquake? My teacher interpreted this way, but I don't think so. When we use the word decade in these kind of cases, doesn't it mean like the year 2000, 2010, 2020, 2030, and so on? Say we are in 2017, and what the sentence is saying that before 2020, there might be an earthquake. Which interpretation is correct?

  • Note: my teacher is Japanese, not native – REGO350 Jul 21 at 5:16
  • You're right. Your teacher is wrong. – codi6 Jul 21 at 6:04

The expression can be taken either way, but because the expression is "the end of the decade" I would normally assume it is the current 10-year period ending in December 2010, 2020, 2030 etc. Some people take decades from 2010-2019 etc instead of 2011-2020 etc, so the exact end of a decade can be ambiguous. "The end of another decade" would be more likely to mean within 10 years from the speech. "The end of a decade from now" is unambiguous, and means 10 years from now.

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  • Is the word "the" (before decade) referring to the current decade? For my example that will be 2010 (end of the decade will be 2019 Dec 31 23:59:99). – REGO350 Jul 21 at 5:47
  • Yes, I would say so. I would say that the decade runs from 1 Jan 2011 to 31 Dec 2020, but I acknowledge there is disagreement about this. The date of Australian federation was chosen to be the first day of the 20th Century - 1st Jan 1901, but 2000 was celebrated (except by pedants) as the start of the 21st century. – Peter Jul 21 at 5:58
  • @Ɛᘔ6Sᴚ There was no year zero. The first year of the first century started on the first day of year 1, and finished on the last day of year 100—and the second century started on the first day of the year 101. It's the same with decades. In terms of the Gregorian calendar, the current decade started on the first day of 2011 and it will finish on the last day of 2020. But most people don't follow that scientific dating, and think of it starting on the first day of 2020, and finishing on the last day of 2029—even though that's technically inaccurate. – Jason Bassford Jul 21 at 6:42
  • Interesting point. But I think it’s easier to think 2010-2019, 2020-2029 – REGO350 Jul 21 at 7:30
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    For present purposes, just be aware that while you have one understanding the person you are talking with may have the other understanding. – Peter Jul 21 at 9:55

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