We use before to connect earlier events to the moment of speaking or to a point of time in the past:
I’m so looking forward to the trip. I haven’t been to Latin America before. (up to the moment of speaking)
I introduced Tom to Olivia last night. They hadn’t met before. (up to that point in the past)
Before as a conjunction
We use before as a subordinating conjunction. We commonly use before with the past simple tense. It suggests that the second event happened soon after the first one. The before clause, which indicates the second action, can be at the end or at the beginning of the sentence:
Before she left, she gave everyone a present.
She gave everyone a present before she left.
Before with present tenses
When we use before in clauses in the present tense, the clause can refer to the future:
Before I go to work, I jog for at least an hour.
Not: Before I will go to work …
Before with past tenses
We sometimes use before clauses in a variety of tenses to say that the action or event in the before clause did not or may not happen:
Before I had a chance to thank him, he’d gone.
You’re interrupting her before she has even spoken.
Before he had finished his training, he was sacked.
We should stop shopping now before we spend all our money.
Before with -ing
A non-finite clause with before + ing-form is more formal:
Before bringing the milk to the boil, add the egg. (more formal than Before you bring …)
Just before, immediately before
We can use adverbs such as just, immediately, shortly and long, and expressions involving words such as days, weeks, months, years in front of before:
We got home just before it rained.
The deadline for the essay was 5 pm. I got mine in shortly before five o’clock but Lily had hers in days before the deadline.
We can use beforehand as an alternative to before as an adverb, especially when the reference to time is less specific.
Beforehand is more common in informal speaking than in writing:
I love singing but I always get so nervous beforehand.
In front of beforehand, we can put adverbs such as immediately, just and shortly, and other time expressions such as days, weeks, months, years:
Months beforehand, Dominic had bought five tickets for the concert.
Other uses of before
Before meaning ‘in front of’
We use before meaning ‘in front of’ in more formal contexts:
Brian was twenty years old. He had his whole life before him.
The Prime Minister went before the people to tell them that he was going to resign.
Before long meaning ‘after a short time’
Especially in writing, we use before long to mean ‘after a short time’:
They’ll marry before long, and then you’ll have more grandsons than you can count.
Before: typical errors
We use above not before when we refer back to something we have already written:
As stated above, there are four key findings from the study.
Not: As stated before, there are …
When we refer to a period of time that is completed and which goes from a point in the past up to now, we use ago, not before: