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The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/14/2012

A bilingual dictionary often isn't good enough to help you resolve doubts about translating many common words. "Before" is a common word in English, used in various ways that therefore have different translations into Spanish.

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    Before Time? Before Whom or What?

    The various senses of before in English and Spanish, and the types of grammatical structures they require, depend on whether it is used as an adverb, a conjunction or a preposition. Starting with a prepositional usage referring to time, consider antes de. Note that when a verb form directly follows a preposition in Spanish always, always is in the infinitive (in English, it is always the -ing form):

    Antes de acostarte, cepíllate los dientes (Before going to bed, brush your teeth).

    When antes is adverbial, it means before, but in the sense of first (imparting a chronology). Note that as an adverb, it modifies the verb:

    Entramos antes, luego ellos entraron (We entered first, then they did).

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    The phrase antes de que means before and is a conjunction due to que -- which means that a clause will follow, with a conjugated verb. This expression always requires the subjunctive, because the action of that phrase is or was anticipated:

    Vamos a salir antes de que llegue tu padre (Let's leave before your father arrives).

    Salimos antes de que llegara tu padre (We left before your father arrived).

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    If antes que does not place emphasis on time or sequence, but rather a preferred course of action, then it is not a conjunction but a preposition (yes, in this case, que is acting as a preposition). In such cases it means before in the sense of rather than:

    Prefiere morir antes que rendirse sin honra (He prefers to die rather than surrender without honor).

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    When before is spatial, not temporal or expressing a preference of one thing before another, as in the example above, delante de is used. It means before in the sense of in front of, or ahead of:

    Ellos se sentaron delante del professor (They sat down in front of the professor).

    Juan tiene muchas dificultades delante de él (John has a lot of difficulties in front of him).

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    Finally, ante means before in the sense of in the presence of:

    Lo mandaron comparecer ante el juez (They ordered him to appear before the judge).

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    One additional note for epistolary or letter-writing usage: Ante todo means before all else or, more commonly in English, first of all.

Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
  1. Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
  2. Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
  9. Using "Anyway..." in Spanish
  10. Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
  14. Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
  20. Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
  25. The Word "Country" in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
  28. How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with... In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
  31. Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
  33. Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting -- Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing... and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal

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