The phrase "from before"



In the sentence "I know him from before", what part of speech is "before"?

Is such a sentence acceptable in the first place? More generally, is the phrase "from before" meaningful?

My question arises from the fact that no dictionary lists "before" as a noun; but from the sentence it appears that "before" is the object of the preposition "from" and refers to the past time of the speaker's life. Why isn't it listed as noun then by dictionaries?


Posted 2020-08-28T05:30:50.663

Reputation: 244

3"Before" is a preposition, used intransitively in your example. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T08:57:44.273

What's "from" then @BillJ? – Userabc – 2020-08-28T09:07:46.613

3"From" is a preposition whose complement is the prep "before". "From before" is thus a PP functioning as an adjunct (adverbial) in clause structure. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T12:35:00.163

Nice! I am slowly beginning to get a feel of the modern approach. Thank you, Sir! – Userabc – 2020-08-28T12:47:51.870

1@Userabc Different people can use different terminology to talk about the same thing. When two people describe the same thing differently, and each uses an internal vocabulary that disagrees with the other person's, then both parties are necessarily "wrong" according to the language of the other. But all it really means is that they disagree in terms of how to approach something. It's contextual and subjective. There is a contradiction because of opposing vocabularies and analyses. All you can do is put yourself within one system, or try to reconcile the two in some way. – Jason Bassford – 2020-08-28T13:50:55.120

@Jason Bassford-- Don't you think at times it feels disquieting to put oneself into a system that doesn't follow a systematic approach itself as was evidenced by earlier comments? If the modern approach puts things in a better perspective, it's time we jettisoned the traditional approach already. – Userabc – 2020-08-28T14:19:14.970

2Further, modern grammar is far more accurate and better thought-out than the trad stuff. Take, for ex the terms 'gerund' and 'present participle'. Think of the endless questions from learners asking how to distinguish one from the other. We don't need to. All we need to know is whether a word has the syntactic properties of a noun, adjective or verb, and the POS becomes obvious. Modern grammar calls the ing forms simply 'gerund-participles. How sensible is that? And as for terms like 'noun clause' and 'adjective clause' -- well, it simply beggars belief that some people use them. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T14:33:46.590

1@BillJ This is a site that is inclusive and solicits well-reasoned answers from a group of people who want to provide input. Everybody should feel welcome to participate, especially if it is the form of detailed analysis and thoughtful discourse. Just because something isn't what some people consider correct is no reason for it to be disparaged. This site is not Modern Grammar Only, it is English Language and Usage, which invites input from everybody. All viewpoints should be encouraged, after which the community collectively decides how it is received. – Jason Bassford – 2020-08-28T14:44:17.653

1@JasonBassford Just read the last comment by the OP (a learner, I believe) , and you'll see the counter-argument to your claim. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T15:03:30.590

1Old out-of date grammar is not a 'view-point' but an unnecessary distraction. Does the Q&A section in The Lancet encourage input from medics who still believe in using leeches in surgery? Of course it doesn’t. So why should grammar keep looking backwards? – BillJ – 2020-08-28T15:16:38.217

2“Before” is uncontroversially a preposition when it has an NP as complement, and there's no basis for assigning it to different categories according as it takes an NP or a clause -- or no complement at all. Trad grammar has: “before the meeting” (prep+NP complement); “before we arrived” (sub conjunction+clause); “I hadn’t seen her before” (adverb, no complement). This is just a matter of varying complementation, which is commonplace, so it makes good sense to simply call “before” a preposition. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T15:16:55.547

1@BillJ You said "And as for terms like 'noun clause' and 'adjective clause' -- well, it simply beggars belief that some people use them." That's just silly. People use them because they were taught them, or because they read about them. Your strong opinions about the relative merits of different grammar approaches are still merely opinions. – barbecue – 2020-08-28T19:35:48.077

1I agree with @BillJ. Some prepositions can freely take a PP as a complement: eg. "from out behind", "in here", etc. So there's no reason to say "before" is a noun just because it is a complement of "from". Modern grammar has made this easy: "before" is a preposition and is always a preposition. – user178049 – 2020-08-29T02:12:58.570

1@barbecue Silly? I'm aware that it's taught, though it's usually by clueless ESL teachers. It's not about opinions or approaches, but about common sense. An extension of the preposition category is possible if we abandon the idea that prepositions must have NP complements. And a classification of finite subordinate clauses based on their internal form rather than spurious analogies with the parts of speech makes much more sense. – BillJ – 2020-08-29T09:12:39.897

@billj It's taught, has been taught for decades, and millions of people have learned it. It does not beggar belief that people would use terms they were taught in school. On the contrary, it's common sense that people will use the terms they were taught in school. You may disagree with that teaching, and you may think it's ridiculous. But claiming it's unbelievable, astonishing, or unexpected? That's what is silly. – barbecue – 2020-08-31T13:36:34.017

1Wake up @barbecue I've already responded to what you say (yet again). Try reading my comments as well as those of the OP and user178049. You may wish to bury your head in the sand, but don't expect others to. – BillJ – 2020-08-31T13:41:31.200

1And it's no good trotting out the usual comments "Well, I learned it in school", or "I read it in some grammar website", or whatever. Learners deserve better that that. – BillJ – 2020-08-31T14:00:45.450



The most logical explanation I can manage is that “from” and “before” are both acting as prepositions with implied objects:

  • I don’t remember him from [the time(s)] before [this time].
  • I didn’t remember him from [the times(s)] before [that time].

This isn’t something you could do generally because context can rarely supply two implied objects at once.

It’s probably simpler to just accept it as an idiom.


Posted 2020-08-28T05:30:50.663

Reputation: 1 972


The sentence is a bit informal and context dependent, not something you're likely to see in a formal setting but certainly acceptable in a colloquial sense.

"I know him from before" is missing the information about the past that would normally follow the word "before". The speaker is leaving out information and assuming the listener knows what they mean by "before", e.g. "I know him from before the war" if the listener is assumed to know that "before" must mean "before the war". Many different languages do this sort of shortening or elision where the speaker leaves out information assuming the listener will understand from context. It allows us to speak more briefly, more succinctly.

In that sense "before" isn't the noun, but the beginning of a partially elided noun phrase such as "before the war" from my example. It's clear that "before" can't function as a noun on its own: "the before" doesn't sound quite right, though perhaps you could take some creative license and say "the before-time" to force "before" into being a noun.

If the listener knows what you're talking about, a single word like "before" can take on great significance, conveying that you're referring to a time prior to some major event without explicitly referring to the event.

Anthony Leong

Posted 2020-08-28T05:30:50.663

Reputation: 465


Merriam-Webster lists before as both an adjective and an adverb in the following sense:

2 : at an earlier time
   // the night before
   // knew her before

In the first phrase, before modifies the noun night, so it's acting as an adjective.
In the second phrase, before modifies the verb knew, so it's acting as an adverb.

Now consider there:

1 : in or at that place
// stand over there —often used interjectionally

We can expand that phrase into a sentence:

  • He stands her over there.

Breaking that down, it's pronoun + verb + pronoun + preposition + adverb.

Based on everything so far:

  • I knew him from before.

Pronoun + verb + pronoun + preposition + adverb.

Jason Bassford

Posted 2020-08-28T05:30:50.663

Reputation: 34 584

So as per this logic the sentence "He stopped and went on from there" could be broken down as-- Pronoun+verb+conjunction+ phrasal verb+preposition+adverb ? – Userabc – 2020-08-28T08:42:33.600

@Userabc Yes, exactly. – Jason Bassford – 2020-08-28T08:44:08.720

Please check AHD, "there" in this case is listed as a noun and not an adverb. – Userabc – 2020-08-28T08:45:18.453

2@Userabc If dictionaries (or grammar guides) disagree as to the classification of a word in exactly the same phrase, then there can be no objective single answer. I based my analysis on Merriam-Webster. But note that Merriam-Webster does also show there as a noun and pronoun—just in different specific constructions that don't match the particular phrases here. As a noun, it shows there is no *there*. By extension, I could say that before is a noun in the phrase there is no *before* (despite the fact that it doesn't have an entry for that exact use, I can see no objection). – Jason Bassford – 2020-08-28T08:50:11.267

2"Before" is a preposition, here used intransitively. – BillJ – 2020-08-28T08:58:42.500