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Before, Part I: bevor, vor, or vorher?

There are a number of German words that may be translated as "before," in the temporal meaning of "at a previous time." Among the most common are vor, vorher, and bevor. Let's take a look today at these three German words that are commonly translated to English as "before."

 

The German word bevor is a subordinating conjunction that connects two independent clauses. Note that in most cases, where bevor appears in the last half of a sentence, the verb is usually at the end of the sentence: 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Darf ich's Ihnen dann noch schnell erklären, bevor Sie Ihre Platten essen?

May I explain it to you quickly before you eat your platters?

Caption 62, 48 h in Innsbruck: Sehenswürdigkeiten & Tipps

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Drei Wochen lang betteln hier die Jungen, bevor sie sich selber in die Fluten stürzen.

For three weeks, the young beg here before they dive into the waters themselves.

Caption 23, Alpenseen: Kühle Schönheiten

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Aber bevor du jetzt schneidest, check erst mal, ob der Stoff passt.

But before you start cutting, first check whether the fabric is suitable.

Captions 77-78, Coronavirus: Schutzmasken zum Selbermachen

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The German word vor is a preposition and is usually placed in a sentence to modify a noun. Note that when vor is used in its temporal sense, the definite or indefinite article of its noun is usually dative. For clarity, the preposition, the article, and the noun are in bold print:

 

Du musst den Ball vor dem letzten Schlag der Zwölf verlassen haben,

You need to have left the ball before the last stroke of twelve,

Caption 52, Märchenstunde: Das Aschenputtel

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Soll er die Tabletten morgens, mittags und abends vor oder nach dem Essen nehmen?

Should he take the pills in the morning, at noon, and in the evening—and before or after eating?

Caption 17, Nicos Weg: Nehmen Sie...

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Was bekommen wahlberechtigte Bürger und Bürgerinnen in Deutschland vor einer Wahl?

What do citizens who are eligible to vote receive before an election?

Caption 18, Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Einbürgerungstest

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The German word vorher is an adverb:

 

Alles andere kommt vorher.

Everything else comes before it.

Caption 35, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Konjunktionen

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Und dann kam es wieder aus dem Gully raus und noch viel größer und noch viel böser als vorher.

And then it came out of the storm drain again, much bigger and much meaner than before.

Caption 54, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

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Note that vorher is sometimes translated as "beforehand" and "previously," depending upon the context: 

 

Es besteht die Möglichkeit, jedes Board vorher zu testen...

The possibility exists, to test every board beforehand...

Caption 41, Longboarding: mit Lassrollen

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Dann bekommt man Geld zurück, das man vorher dafür bezahlt hat.

Then you get the money back that you previously paid for them.

Caption 13, Diane: auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt

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Further Learning
To recap: bevor usually connects two sentences; vor is a preposition that usually uses the dative case when referring to time; and vorher is an adverb that, as we know, modifies a verb. The best way to get an understanding of which word is appropriate in which context is hear them being used, however. Go to Yabla German and search for each of the three words—be sure that the examples with vor that you find are related to time and not place—and see the different ways that people commonly use them.

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