Three German-speaking mothers are waiting for their children’s choir rehearsal to end. They talk about the date for the next concert which was announced in the music teacher’s last letter. “Im Brief steht, dass der Auftritt nächste Woche ist”, says one mother. “Aber letzten Dienstag, hat er gesagt, dass der Auftritt diese Woche ist”, contradicts another mother. “Letzte Woche war diese Woche nächste Woche“, reminds them a third mother. They decide to ask the music teacher.
One often hears such discussions. It is customary for German native speakers to talk about events in the future with nächste(r) or about events in the past with letzte(r). It is also common practice to use diese(r) for appointments in the near future. Unfortunately, this practice leads to misunderstandings among native speakers of German. Learners of German as a second language feel like despairing at such times.
Talking About Events In The Past
The expressions letzte(r), vergangene(r), vorige(r) refer to events in the past.
- Das Fußballspiel war letzten Dienstag. (last week’s Tuesday or Tuesday before this communication – they can be the same!)
- Ihre Prüfung war letzte Woche. (in the week before the communication)
- Er ist im vorigen Monat Vater geworden. (in the month before the communication)
- Vergangenes Jahr bin ich nach Spanien geflogen. (in the year before the communication)
The expression is especially misleading when it relates to events that happened only a short time ago. The more time has passed since the event, the less doubtful are expressions using letzte(r), vergangene(r) and vorige(r). Only expressions using letzte(r) and Nacht are obvious in meaning:
- Letzte Nacht war eine Party in der Wohnung unter meiner. (the night before the communication)
Talking About Events In The Present
Diese(r) refers to the present. Present means the time shortly before or after the communication.
- diese Woche (the present week starting either Sunday or Monday until Sunday)
- dieser Tage (a few days either before or after the communication; the day of the communication can be one of these days)
- dieser Monat (the present month)
- dieses Jahr (the present year)
Talking About Events in The Future
Kommende(r) and nächste(r)refer to the future.
- nächster Donnerstag (Thursday after the communication or Thursday in the week after the communication)
- kommende Woche (the week after the communication)
These expressions are confusing when they refer to events in the near future.
It is usually possible to understand from the context of the discussion which day is referred to. If you have any doubts, ask for a specific date