Before

'You have heard this before.' You may have noticed 'before' in such sentences. In this lesson, we will discover more about it.

How to Use "Before" in English?

'Before' is very common among native speakers. It is used as a conjunction, a preposition, and an adverb. In this lesson, we will discuss how to learn and use it.

Functions of 'Before'

'Before' as a Conjunction

One of the uses of 'before' is to function as a conjunction. Below, we will learn about the kinds of conjunctions it can be:

Use

'Before' as a Subordinating Conjunction

We can use 'before' to connect the subordinate clause to the main clause. Below, we are going to learn about its different meanings:

  • When we want to indicate that something has happened earlier:

I want to check out on my grandma before going to class.

Here, the first action is happening earlier than the second one.

Just talk to me before you go, please.

  • When we want to prevent further damage or negative results. Take a look:

Careful with your words before you ruin your last chance.

Before having time to comprehend what had exactly happened, she disappeared into the woods.

  • When we want to indicate that something must be done first to be able to move on to the next stage. Study the following examples:

Don't you think you must apologize to your mother before telling her about your new class?

It's obligatory that all students take the admission exam before the interview.

  • When we want to indicate that a period of time must be elapsed till we get the thing we want. Analyze the following examples:

A few days passed before we were told that he wasn't returning.

As you can see, a specific period of time has been past.

They remained silent a few minutes before they were finally free.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'before' here is a subordinating conjunction, we can use it at the beginning of the dependent clause or between the two clauses we want to connect, or we can put them before the phrase we want to add. Look:

Before moving on to the next lesson, you can ask your questions.

She is supposed to analyze the positive and negative consequences of her decisions before acting on them.

Punctuation Rules

If we are using 'before' at the beginning of the subordinate clause, we must put a comma before the main clause. Look:

Before moving on to the next stage, I want to make sure that you have fully understood this part.

Warning!

Please note that we must use the simple present tense with 'before' when talking about future events. Take a look below:

I have to go before it gets dark.

(Not I have to go before it will get...)

'Before' as an Adverb

Another use of 'before' is to be an adverb. Below, we are going to analyze the kinds of adverbs it can be:

Use

'Before' as an Adverb of Time

  • When we want to refer to an earlier time, we use 'before' as an adverb of time:

I think I've met this girl before.

I walked under this building for hours the week before.

Tip!

It might be useful to know that 'before' as an adverb was used to show that someone/something was ahead of another. However, it is archaic and we no longer use it. Take a look below:

Guards were standing before and behind them.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'before' is used as an adverb, we mainly put it after the verb, especially after the direct object when the verb is transitive. Look at the following examples:

I have never seen this witch before.

They've attended this seminar before.

'Before' as a Preposition

Another use of 'before' is to function as a preposition. Below, we are going to see the different kinds of prepositions it can be:

Use

'Before' as a Preposition of Time

  • When we want to show a period of time preceding something, we use 'before' as a preposition of time:

I can watch another episode before lunch, mom.

Just read a few pages before sleep.

'Before' as a Preposition of Place

'Before' can also be a preposition of place. Look below:

  • When something/someone is ahead of another in a list, we use 'before':

Stand before me and tell the whole world they're doomed.

Anna's name is right before mine.

  • When we want to indicate that something happens where some people can see it:

Aren't you supposed to present your ideas before thousands of people in a month?

She is brought here to dance before the magistrate.

  • In preferences, when we are putting things/people before others, we use 'before'

The biggest lesson I learned was to put myself before everyone else.

The Aldens always put other peoples' needs before their own.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'before' is a preposition here, we always put it before nouns or noun phrases. We can begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, put it in the middle, or at the end of the sentence. Look at the following examples for more clarification:

Stop writing your homework before me.

Here, the prepositional phrase has come at the end of the sentence.

Right before my eyes, she insulted him and left.

Here, 'before' has come at the beginning of the sentence.

The class, standing before us, performed wonderfully.

As you can see, 'before' has been used in the middle of the sentence.

Warning!

Please note that when we have a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence, we must put a comma after it. Also, when we have a prepositional phrase in the middle of the sentence, we must have commas both before and after it. Look:

Before summer, Lana studied hard.

That girl, standing before us, claims she knows the truth.

Formal Uses of 'Before' as a Preposition

When we use 'before' as a preposition, there are some formal cases in which we can use it. We will learn all about them below:

  • When we want to say something/someone is in front of another:

The desert stretched out before me.

The professor stood before the stage.

  • When we must face a situation, a task, etc. Take a look:

Defending my proposal lays before me.

Selling this house lays before them.

  • When you have a period of time to use it the way you want:

You have a month of complete freedom and fun before you, Mary.

Literature students have a difficult literary course before them.

Idioms with 'Before'

We have a few idioms with 'before' that are pretty common among native English speakers. Let us see what they are about:

  • Before you know it: This idiom means 'very soon':

Before you know it, she shall lie dead in front of you.

The semester will end before you know it.

  • Before long: This one means 'soon':

He'll be a professional before long.

Enjoy your peace cause there will be none before long.

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