7

Do вчера and день назад refer to the same time period? If no, what is the difference?

1
  • I'd throw in an pre-revolution, i.e. "oldisch" and bookish третьего дня, which means the day before yesterday. Mar 25 '18 at 21:21
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If today, Dec 26th, I said the two phrases:

  1. 20-го декабря шёл снег, a день назад его не было.

  2. 20-го декабря шёл снег, а вчера его не было.

, the first phrase would mean that it did not snow on Dec, 19th, while the second would mean that it did not snow on Dec, 25th.

5
  • Thah makes sense but the question wasn't loaded. Dec 26 '12 at 1:29
  • @v'-5o-1's73- and Quassnoi: I think v'-5o-1's73- meant the following: Is there any difference when you talk on Dec 26 about Dec 25 - "вчера" and "день назад".
    – farfareast
    Dec 26 '12 at 16:37
  • That's right. Is there a difference between the two when it comes to the day before today. Dec 27 '12 at 3:28
  • 5
    This is wrong. You cannot use "день назад" in this context, you should use "днём раньше" or "на день раньше" or "в предыдущий день".
    – Anixx
    Jan 8 '13 at 4:36
  • This is wrong answer, can you please remove it, Quassnoi?
    – Anixx
    Oct 19 '13 at 16:50
5

There is exactly the same difference between вчера и день назад as between yesterday and day before: first, day before means yesterday if we assume that we are talking about current day; second, even if we are pretty sure from the context that we are talking about current day, it is far less typical to say день назад. Since there is a separate word for such case - (paraaaam) yesterday :)

Example:

Он повёл себя тогда со мной как скотина, хотя день назад ещё был весь из себя джентельмен.

See, if you'd use вчера in this phrase, it will look like you are talking about "real" yesterday. Though this is nevertheless both understandable and acceptable usage of word yesterday.

By the way, you can also say день тому назад.

12
  • From what you just said it's so unclear what the difference is Dec 25 '12 at 20:52
  • 1
    sorry for that :( But I hardly imagine more informative answer - it is just the way it is.
    – shabunc
    Dec 25 '12 at 22:03
  • How about this one? english.stackexchange.com/a/95511/21048?stw=2 Dec 26 '12 at 2:23
  • it looks like you already have an answer in your head and insist that this answer should be produced ))) I nevertheless insist that my answer is correct)
    – shabunc
    Dec 26 '12 at 3:47
  • Am I insisting? I just think that yourbanswer is vague and needs some work. Dec 26 '12 at 11:24
3

As @shabunc said, there is exactly the same difference between вчера and день назад as between yesterday and the day before, but I'd like to explain the difference in detail.

Both вчера and [один] день [тому] назад mean the same when this moment of speech is today. Let's assume that in the following example sentences today is December 25.

Сегодня я встретил друга, и он сказал мне, что приехал вчера (= сказал мне, что приехал день назад). - I met a friend today, and he told me he came yesterday (= told me he came the day before).

In the sentence above, my friend was speaking today, the moment of his speech is today, on Dec. 25, that is why his words приехал вчера / приехал день назад mean he came on Dec. 24, the two expressions mean the same.

But the meaning of the expressions вчера and день назад mean different things when the moment of speech is in the Past, when it is not today.

1) Вчера Сергей сказал мне, что приехал вчера. - Yesterday Sergey told me he came yesterday.

2) Вчера Сергей сказал мне, что приехал день назад. - Yesterday Sergey told me he had come the day before.

In both 1) and 2) the moment of speech is yesterday, that is Dec. 24, so the two expressions mean different things. In 1) Sergey came on Dec. 24. In 2) Sergey came on Dec. 23, the day before he told me about his arrival.

Summing it all up, it can be said that вчера always means the day before today, the day before the present-moment day, it doesn't depend on the date of the moment of speech (just like сегодня and завтра). On the other hand, [один] день [тому] назад is relative to the moment of speech, it means the day before the moment-of-speech day.

There's one more point to be minded. If the date of the moment of speech is not expressed explicitly in a past sentence (the listener cannot understand if it is about today or not) or it is not clear from the context, then the relative expression [один] день [тому] назад can be misinterpreted.

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  • I appreciate your long explanation, but you didn't say more than Quassoni did in his answer with less words. It wasn't a loaded question, so the situation you are describing isn' in question. I litteraly meant if there is any difference in meaning between these words given the rest is the same. Dec 26 '12 at 1:47
  • In some contexts the two sentences of @Quassnoi mean absolutely the same, I mentioned that in the last paragraph of my answer.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 26 '12 at 2:05
  • This is wrong. You cannot use "день назад" in this context, you should use "днём раньше" or "на день раньше" or "в предыдущий день".
    – Anixx
    Jan 8 '13 at 4:37
1

There are two differences: a) time reference point and b) productivity.

As a time reference point, вчера, позавчера (the day before tomorrow) and even such grammatical, although not too frequently, if ever, used words as поза-позавчера, поза-поза-позавчера и т.д. correlate with сегодня/today as reference point only. Examples:

Сегодня мне весело, вчера было скучно.

Вчера было воскресенье. сегодня понедельник, завтра будет вторник.

Позавчера их не было дома, завтра они приедут (with unspoken implication on speaker asking about today).

день назад correlates with any time-reference point, e.g.

Позавчера мне было весело, день назад было скучно, три дня назад меня вообще там не было. ( три дня назад = three days ago (from now on, or with a specific reference to any presupposed time point)

Cf:

Позавчера мне весело, день (тому) назад было скучно. (here тому is a distant demonstrative similar to some of Finno-Ugric, e.g. Finnish tuo, Komi тайö). Russian speakers normally use тому to emphasise that the reference point is/was/choose any matching English tense/ at distant past.

or

Позавчера мне было весело, день назад было скучно, три дня тому назад меня вообще там не было. Here три дня тому назад may refer to any context-defined time reference point standing by default for день назад.

The main diffrence is about productivity. День назад is more productive and may refer to any number of days, e.g.

два дня назад

четыре дня назад

десять дней назад, etc.

Hазад may be used togther with some other time measuring units as well.

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