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Heard this sentence on a news broadcast:

...et il promet qu'il rentrera dans les deux jours.

I would have said "dans deux jours." That's what I've always said for expressing "in X [units of time"...dans trois mois, dans dix minutes...am I wrong? Is the definite article needed there? Or is there a nuance of meaning?

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There is indeed a nuance:

"Dans deux jours" means "in two days"

"Dans les deux jours" means "within the next two days"

So if I say on a Monday "je reviendrai dans deux jours", that means I'll show up on Wednesday, not before. Compare with "je reviendrai dans les deux jours": I can show up at any time between today and Wednesday.

You can also use it with other units of time: "le colis doit être renvoyé dans les 2 mois", "j'exige une réponse dans les 2 heures".

If you wish to express the same nuance with a single unit of time, you would say "je vous rappelle dans l'heure", "je reviendrai dans la journée" (not "*dans le jour"), "je compte finir ce projet dans l'année" (not "*dans l'an"), "ce sera prêt dans la minute".

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    If ‘dans le jour’ doesn’t work, I also don't understand ‘dans la journée’ as an equivalent to a 24-hour period, but as between now and the end of this day. ‘Dans les 24 heures’ would be less ambiguous to me. Same with ‘dans la semaine’, for which I would prefer ‘dans les 7 jours’ for the full 7-day period, or otherwise I would understand that it should happen before the end of this week. ‘Dans l’heure’ and ‘dans la minute’ are fine with me, though. – Montée de lait Nov 15 '17 at 14:57
  • I agree that "dans la journée" is not the exact equivalent of "*dans le jour", if that phrase existed, but that is the closest equivalent, and the one that follows the same construction. Depending on the context, "dans la journée" may mean "between now and dusk","during business hours" or "between now and going to bed", as "journée" is not a 24h-period and does not cover exactly the idea of "jour". – Greg Nov 15 '17 at 15:54
  • (cont.) "Dans les 24 heures" is not the same: you may want to say "between now and today, midnight", for which I cannot think of an equivalent. "Dans la semaine" is indeed ambiguous, and would mean in most cases "between now and Sunday" but it is commonly used. These are common, every-day expressions, but I agree they are indeed open to ambiguity and will sometimes need to be clarified by additional information. – Greg Nov 15 '17 at 15:54
  • @Greg I've heard "before end of day" (aka BEOD) used for "dans la journée". I'd expect "dans la semaine" to be "before end of week". Compared to "sous 7 jours" / "within 7 days" (also: "within 5 business days" / "sous 5 jours ouvrés") – ptyx Nov 15 '17 at 17:03
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    @ptyx: interesting, have you heard "BEOD" also used in "purely" French contexts ? I also use "before COB" ("closure of business") or "EOB ("end of business") in my professional, international context, but I wouldn't dare to use it with French interlocutors. And I love my own native Belgian French, which still uses an outdated word in administrative writing: "endéans" (ex: "Le consommateur peut renoncer à son achat endéans les 7 jours"). – Greg Nov 16 '17 at 5:27

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