Meaning of “before” in the English Dictionary

"before" in British English

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beforepreposition, adverb, conjunction

uk /bɪˈfɔːr/ us /bɪˈfɔːr/

A1 at or during a time earlier than (the thing mentioned):

You should always wash your hands before meals.
Before leaving he said goodbye to each of them.
She's always up before dawn.
Before he could reach the door, she quickly closed it.
Before we make a decision, does anyone want to say anything else?
She had to give the doorman a tip before he would help her with her suitcases (= he would not do it until she had given him a tip).

B1 until (the event mentioned):

It was an hour before the police arrived.

A2 in the past:

He said he had never seen her before.
I feel as though I've been here before.

More examples

  • You should always check your oil, water and tyres before taking your car on a long trip.
  • Make sure your hands are clean before you have your dinner.
  • Two weeks before my exams I shut myself away in my room with my books and I didn't speak to anyone.
  • I want you to clear all these toys away before bedtime.
  • She did well to find the way, considering she'd only been there once before.


uk /bɪˈfɔːr/ us /bɪˈfɔːr/

B1 in front of:

The letter K comes before L in the English alphabet.
Many mothers put their children's needs before their own.
We have the whole weekend before us - what do you want to do?
He stood up before a whole roomful of people, and asked her to marry him.

A2 If a place is before another place, you will arrive at it first when you are travelling towards the second place:

The bus stop is just before the school.

If something is before someone or before a group of people, it will be formally considered or examined by that person or group:

The proposal before the committee is that we try and reduce our spending by ten percent.
The men appeared before the judge yesterday.

More examples

  • He bowed down before the king and begged for mercy.
  • I could hardly believe the chaotic scene before me.
  • There were still several people before me in the queue.
  • He took out his gold watch and laid it on the table before hm.
  • He got down on his knees before the altar.

(Definition of “before” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"before" in American English

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beforepreposition, conjunction, adverb [ not gradable ]

us /bɪˈfɔr, -ˈfoʊr/

before preposition, conjunction, adverb [ not gradable ] (EARLIER)

at or during a time earlier than (the thing mentioned):

I left early because I wanted to arrive home before dark.
Before making up your mind, think about all your options.
It was another half hour before (= until) the ambulance finally arrived.
Less than a week before, he’d graduated from college.
before last

Before last means before the most recent:

Today is Monday, so the day before last was Saturday.


us /bɪˈfɔr, -ˈfoʊr/

before preposition (IN FRONT)

in front of:

It took courage to stand before a courtroom full of people.

(Definition of “before” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)