Schedulers stumble over what ‘next’ week means

The word "next" is what linguists and philosophers call an "indexical" – a "linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context."


If today is Monday, when is next Sunday? What about if today is Friday, or also a Sunday? Many appointments have been missed and many planners have been frustrated because the answer is not always the same, though theoretically, it should be. Next means “immediately adjacent (as in place, rank, or time),” as Merriam-Webster puts it, so whether it’s Monday, April 4; Friday, April 8; or Sunday, April 3, the “immediately adjacent” Sunday is April 10. That’s too easy for the English language and its speakers, though, and “next Sunday” can be April 17 as well.

The answer varies with geography. People in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and much of the United States would most likely mean April 17; in southern England, it tends to be April 10. Even if you know the trend where you are, though, the answer can vary from speaker to speaker. Why is next so hard to pin down, and are there any rules that can help?  

Next is what linguists and philosophers call an indexical, “a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Indexicals are often a source of semantic ambiguity. “Tomorrow” seems like it should be perfectly clear, but if you’re in Boston on a Monday at 9 p.m. and talking to someone in Tokyo, “tomorrow” will be Tuesday for you, but Wednesday for them.

Though similar time zone issues can arise with “next + day of the week” too, the main source of confusion comes from its “implicit point of reference,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In some places, next takes the current day as its starting point: If today is Monday, April 4, then “next Saturday” refers to the Saturday most immediately following the Monday, which would be April 9. More often, though, next takes the entire, current week as its point of reference: If it’s Monday, April 4, then “next Saturday” would be the Saturday that most immediately follows once the current week (which includes Saturday, April 9) is over, or April 16.

Often speakers with the “week” point of reference will differentiate Saturday, April 9, as “this Saturday” (it’s part of “this week”) or, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, “Saturday first.” In southern England and the U.S., where “next Saturday” is April 9, April 16 would often be “Saturday week.” 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the this/next distinction is spreading, so even if you know where a person comes from, you can’t be sure about what they mean. To avoid all possibility of confusion, there is no elegant solution – you just have to use precise dates and times. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Schedulers stumble over what ‘next’ week means
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today