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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
One additional note for epistolary or letter-writing usage: Ante todo means before all else or, more commonly in English, first of all.
This post is part of the series: 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.
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Above”
- Using “Actual” and “Actually” in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways “About” is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb “to Agree”
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say “Again”
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say “Ahead”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Anyone” and “Anybody”
- Using “Anyway…” in Spanish
- Let’s Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for “Around” in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning “to Ask” are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express “Attend,” “Assist,” and “Help”
- Are You “Cool” or “Cold”? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between “Why” and “Because” in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of “Before”: How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don’t Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of “Behind” in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition “Below” and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying “Help” in Spanish
- Translating “Beside” & “Besides” into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of “But” Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition “By” in Spanish
- What Can the English Word “Can” Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Corner”
- The Word “Country” in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of “Outweigh” in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of “Ownership” in Spanish
- How to Express “Time & Distance” in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need “Tratar”
- Spanish Usage Questions: “Having Fun”
- Even a Word Like “Even” Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don’t Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express “to fail”
- Do You Mean “Fair” Weather, a “Fair” Game or a “Fair” Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
- Love, Desire and Wanting – Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say “Fear” in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word “Find”
- Discover the Various Meanings of “Middle” and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning “Worker” Are Created Equal