global English


Only … 25 more sleeps … until we celebrate onestopenglish’s 10th anniversary at the annual IATEFL conference in Brighton, UK.

That made me think: do other languages have the same use of sleep as English? And if not, how is that sort of excitement expressed in those languages?

This unusual countable use of sleep in English is usually accompanied by the adverb only, plus a number, quite often followed by the preposition until or till and a significant event, e.g. travel, holiday or birthday as in the case of onestopenglish:

Only six more sleeps until the OneWorld Multicultural Festival.
That’s right, just twelve more sleeps.
Ten sleeps until Christmas Eve.

We’ll be counting back in sleeps until Saturday 16th April. What will you be doing in your language?

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Kati Sule


  • It’d never occurred to me before Kati, but of course, you’re right, you usually only use ‘sleeps’ with something positive that you’re looking forward to – it would be unusual to say: ‘only three more sleeps till my driving test’ for instance! I wonder if that’s the same in other languages, where there’s an equivalent?

  • In Hungarian, the verb is used, e.g. ‘Már csak hármat kell aludni…’ which translates: We only have to sleep 3 x … Dutch expresses the concept in the same way, i.e. with the verb form, e.g. ‘Nog vier keer slapen en we vertrekken.’ So neither of those languages uses the noun form. It’d be interesting to hear about other languages.

  • In German, you use the same association but not the same grammatical construction. If you have to wait 10 days for something to come (Christmas, birthdays – something you are looking forward to) you say “noch zehn Mal schlafen” (sleeping ten times). The countdown seems to be a part of the great time to come… Clever children always try to push it a bit by counting their mid-day naps, too, even if you try to explain that this won’t work.

  • Dutch uses a combination of noun – preferably the diminutive – and verb, e.g. nog vier nachtjes slapen (four nights sleep) en dan gaan we op vakantie, or just the noun, e.g. over drie nachtjes (in three nights) ben je jarig.

  • In Italian we count days (giorni), no reference to nights or “sleeps” whatsoever.
    A typical Italian sentence would be “mancano X giorni a Z” (“X days to go before Z”; the verb “mancare” literally means “be missing”).

  • In Brazilian Portuguese we use the same construction as Italian, e. g. “Faltam 10 dias para a festa” (“10 days to the party”, again like Italian, “faltam” literally means “missing”).

  • This is the first time I’ve heard of sleep as a countable noun, but forgive me, I think it’s ridiculous. What’s wrong with plain ‘nights’? Or ‘days’ even. What constitutes ‘sleep’ anyway? Isn’t it referring to day/night in this case? Does a nap count as ‘a sleep’? If it does, how many days do I mean if I say ‘it’s 3 sleeps till Mary’s party’? One? Two? Three? If it doesn’t, then plain ‘day’ or night’ sounds far better, and more natural.


  • In Chilean Spanish it is the same as Italian and Portuguese (no wonder all three languages come from Latin). We say “faltan tres días para mi cumpleaños” meaning “three days to my birthday”-

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