My French AirBnB guest told me that "cette nuit" would indicate "last night", whereas I would have thought it would mean "tonight." How can I express each of those two things? Are there multiple ways? Or, as he said, would it depend on context (past tense/future tense)?

Also, is "la nuit dernière" completely wrong?


"Cette nuit" alone is ambiguous, just like "cette semaine" is ambiguous when used during the weekend (it can mean last week or next week).

As often in such situation, the context should give a hint to make the term unequivocal:

  • "Cette nuit il a plu" -> It rained last night
  • "Cette nuit il pleuvra" -> It is going to rain tonight

Also, I would say that the later it is in the day, the more likely "cette nuit" means tonight.

  • 1
    What you say is true, and your last sentence in particular makes a good point. But I would say that in my experience it is far more common for cette nuit to be used to refer to last night than tonight. It is mostly a faux ami, for an anglophone - at least something to be aware of.
    – Drew
    Jul 17 '14 at 2:09
  • 1
    @Drew I agree, also quite often to say tonight we say "ce soir" (even if it ends at 5 AM). Jul 17 '14 at 2:15
  • 1
    Yep. Ce soir on rase gratis...
    – Drew
    Jul 17 '14 at 2:18
  • Is there a way to clarify? Like if someone asked me "When is the event?" and I wanted to say tonight, what could I say, aside from "L'événement aura lieu cette nuit"? Or should I just say "ce soir"? Like, with your weekend example, in English we would specify "this coming week" vs "this past week." Oct 28 '14 at 19:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.