Subtracting a Day from a Date in Python


Dates are one of the most difficult concepts in programming, largely because of the many different formats that a date can be represented as and the many different nuances of dates (leap years, time zones, etc.). Because of this, date manipulations can be difficult. So what if we need to subtract a day from a date?

This operation is quite common in various domains like data analysis, event scheduling, or even simple things like calculating the previous day's date. In this Byte, we'll explore how to subtract a day from a date using the datetime module and Unix timestamps. We'll also look at other date manipulations, like subtracting more than one day.

Using the datetime Module

Python's datetime module is a powerful tool for dealing with dates and times. To subtract a day from a date, we can use the timedelta object from the datetime module. Here's how:

from datetime import datetime, timedelta

# Today's date
today =

# Subtract a day
yesterday = today - timedelta(days=1)

print("Today's date:", today)
print("Yesterday's date:", yesterday)

When you run this script, it will print today's date and the date for the previous day.

Using Unix Timestamps

Another method to subtract a day from a date is by using raw Unix timestamps. A Unix timestamp is a way to track time as a running total of seconds. This count starts at the Unix Epoch on January 1st, 1970. To subtract a day, we subtract 86400 seconds (which is the equivalent of 24 hours) from the current timestamp.

import time

# Get the current timestamp
now = time.time()

# Subtract a day
yesterday_timestamp = now - 86400

# Convert the timestamp back to a date
yesterday = time.ctime(yesterday_timestamp)

print("Current date:", time.ctime(now))
print("Yesterday's date:", yesterday)

Again, this code will print the current date and the date for the previous day.

Other Date Manipulations

There are many other date manipulations you might need to perform apart from subtracting a single day. Let's look at how to subtract more than one day from a date.

Subtracting More Than One Day

If you want to subtract more than one day, you can simply change the value of the days parameter in the timedelta object. For example, to subtract three days from the current date:

from datetime import datetime, timedelta

# Today's date
today =

# Subtract three days
three_days_ago = today - timedelta(days=3)

print("Today's date:", today)
print("Date three days ago:", three_days_ago)

This script will print today's date and the date from three days ago. The timedelta object is quite flexible and can be used to subtract any number of days, weeks, or even years from a date.

Subtracting a Week

Let's say you have a date and you want to find out what the date was exactly one week ago. Python's datetime module makes this operation straightforward. Here's an example:

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from datetime import datetime, timedelta

today =
one_week_ago = today - timedelta(weeks=1)

print(f"Today's date: {today}")
print(f"One week ago: {one_week_ago}")

When you run this code, you'll get an output similar to this:

Today's date: 2022-09-30 16:50:21.992728
One week ago: 2022-09-23 16:50:21.992728

Note: Remember, the timedelta function allows you to subtract days, seconds, microseconds, milliseconds, minutes, hours, and weeks. It doesn't directly support months or years due to their variable lengths.

Subtracting a Month

Subtracting a month from a date is a bit more involved due to the variability in the number of days in a month. To handle this, we can create a function that checks if subtracting a day would cause the month to change. If so, it will subtract an additional day until it reaches the previous month.

from datetime import datetime, timedelta

def subtract_a_month(date):
    target_month = (date.month - 1) if date.month != 1 else 12
    while date.month != target_month:
        date -= timedelta(days=1)
    return date

today =
one_month_ago = subtract_a_month(today)

print(f"Today's date: {today}")
print(f"One month ago: {one_month_ago}")

Running this code might give you an output like this:

Today's date: 2022-09-30 16:50:21.992728
One month ago: 2022-08-30 16:50:21.992728


In this Byte, we've explored a few methods to subtract various time periods from a date using Python, including a week and a month. While Python's datetime and calendar modules are great tools to have, they may not cover every use case. For more complex date manipulations, consider using a library like dateutil.

Last Updated: September 2nd, 2023
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