1. previous to; earlier or sooner than: Phone me before noon.
  2. in front of; ahead of; in advance of: his shadow advancing before him; She stood before the window.
  3. ahead of; in the future of; awaiting: The golden age is before us.
  4. in preference to; rather than: They would die before surrendering.
  5. in precedence of, as in order or rank: We put freedom before wealth.
  6. in the presence or sight of: to appear before an audience.
  7. less than; until: used in indicating the exact time: It’s ten before three.
  8. under the jurisdiction or consideration of: He was summoned before a magistrate.
  9. confronted by; in the face of: Before such wild accusations, he was too stunned to reply.
  10. in the regard of: a crime before God and humanity.
  11. under the overwhelming influence of: bending before the storm.
  12. without figuring or deducting: income before deductions.


  1. in front; in advance; ahead: The king entered with macebearers walking before.
  2. in time preceding; previously: If we’d known before, we’d have let you know.
  3. earlier or sooner: Begin at noon, not before.


  1. previous to the time when: Send the telegram before we go.
  2. sooner than; rather than: I will die before I submit.

conjunction (subordinating)

  1. earlier than the time when
  2. rather thanhe’ll resign before he agrees to it


  1. preceding in space or time; in front of; ahead ofstanding before the altar
  2. when confronted byto withdraw before one’s enemies
  3. in the presence ofto be brought before a judge
  4. in preference toto put friendship before money


  1. at an earlier time; previously; beforehand; in front
adv., prep.

Old English beforan “before, in front of, in the presence of, in former times,” from Proto-Germanic *bi- “by” + *forana “from the front,” adverbial derivative of *fora (see for). Cf. Old Frisian bifara, Old Saxon biforan, Old High German bifora, German bevor. Contrasting before and after in illustrations is from Hogarth (1768). Before the mast in old sailing ships denoting “common sailor,” is from the place of their berths, in front of the fore-mast.

In addition to the idioms beginning with before

  • before long
  • before the wind
  • before you can say Jack Robinson
  • before you know it

also see:

  • cart before the horse
  • cast pearls before swine
  • look before you leap

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