Harvard Business Review
"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

In this example, the "in five years" is more or less the same as "after five years", I believe.

My questions are the below two points:

  1. Does the phrase "in + number + years" ALWAYS equal to "after (the number) years" as long as it is used in reference to the future events?

  2. Is there any case you use the phrase to mean "within (the number) years to come"?

For many years, I thought that "in + number + years" could mean "sometime within the number of years, but now I'm not sure. Please kindly advise me.

Post Edit

  1. Although I said in my original post above "In this example, the "in five years" is more or less the same as "after five years", I believe.", what I meant is "five years from now", not "after five years".
  2. Below chart is the image I have for "in five years". enter image description here
  3. Under my assumption above, I would like to ask you whether "Something will happen in 5 years." can also mean "Something will happen within 5 years." or not.
  • "In five years" could mean either. I hope to save $50,000 in five years (could take five years, could take less), or I'll be living in Canada in five years (I am predicting what will be the case at a time in the future). Sep 25, 2020 at 7:29
  • @Michael Harvey So, if someone says "I and Jane will marry in three years", does that mean the marriage could take place anytime within three years? My understanding was it is likely to take place three years later. Is this understanding wrong?
    – Takashi
    Sep 25, 2020 at 11:07
  • It means they will marry three years from now. Sep 25, 2020 at 11:09

3 Answers 3


As the previous answers have implied, the phrase does not have a precise meaning.

Sometimes it means “no later than X.”

Sometimes it means “after approximately X.”

Sometimes it means “probably not immediately, but probably before X.”

It has the general sense of “not necessarily immediately but probably not much longer than X.”

In the job interview example given above,

Where do you see yourself in five years?

the meaning is

What career goal do you hope to achieve in about five years?

The time is not to be construed in any kind of literal sense.

In the marriage example

They’ve been a couple for a long time; I’d not be surprised if they are married in three years

the meaning is “I don’t personally know what their plans are, but I’d be surprised if they have not married each other well before three years are up.”

It is a way to indicate a rough limit on a span of time, and context is likely to make the meaning somewhat less fuzzy.


something will happen in 5 years

Means by the time 5 years have passed something happened, may have happened before the 5 year mark, but has already happened.

To be more precise about it, you could say:

something will happen before 5 years passes
something will happen within 5 years passing

  • Thanks. My reading for the two examples paraphrased ("before 5 years passes" and "within 5 years passing") is that they indicate something could happen even tomorrow, but that interpretation would not be applicable to the sentence "The couple will marry in 5 years", I guess. If so, I feel the two examples and "something will happen in 5 years" are quite different. Am I misunderstanding something?
    – Takashi
    Sep 26, 2020 at 22:53

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

This is a standard job interview question and specifically means “where do you see yourself five years from today?” If I got in a time machine and jumped forward five years, what would I see you doing?

However, that doesn’t mean you are going to take exactly five years to do it. If your goal is to have a certain job five years from now, presumably you would start working toward that goal immediately and might achieve it early or late, so when I visit you five years in the future, you may or may not already have that job. So, I’m really asking what your goal is, which gives me insight into why you’re applying for a certain job today: it’s a step on the path toward a longer-term goal.

Note that your specific goal isn’t that important; any reasonable answer shows me that you have long-term goals rather than just drifting aimlessly through life.

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