How to Say Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday in Chinese

By Ben Hedges, NTDTV
July 11, 2016 Updated: July 11, 2016

Today we are going to look at how Chinese people talk about days in relation to each other, it is a little more specific than English.


So let’s start with the word for day, in normal spoken Chinese that is 天 this character means sky or heaven and it also means day. Another character that also means day is the more formal 日, this character means sun and means day. It is generally only used in writing or very formal language like in newspapers or speeches. For the rest of the video we will use the character 天 but just so you know, it can be substituted with 日.


So how do we say today? That would be 今天, jin is the first or high level tone and so is tian. So looking into the future, how do we say tomorrow? The future is bright right? Yes! And that is how we say tomorrow, bright day 明天 the character for bright is made up of the 日 character for sun and 月 moon. It would be pretty bright for the sun and the moon to appear next to each other like that.


What about yesterday? Yesterday is 昨天, zuo is the second or rising tone.


Now unlike in English where for the day after tomorrow we literally just call it the day after tomorrow, the Chinese actually have a special term for it. Same goes for the day before yesterday.


So the day after tomorrow they call 後天 hou means the back of something, the day before yesterday is called 前天, qian means the front of something. So if you imagine a yourself moving through a block of time, 5 days. The first day you will hit would be 前天 or front day, and the last day of that five day period would be 後天 back day. The back of this five day block of time.


So there you have it, 今天 is today, 明天 is tomorrow, 昨天 is yesterday, 前天 is the day before yesterday and 後天 is the day after tomorrow.

You may also be pleased to know that you can kill two birds with one stone and apply this logic to the years as well! But actually not so fast, there is one exception, last year is not called 昨年 it is called 去年, other than that the same system applies 今天,明年,前年,後年.