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Can I use "before" with past simple? Or "earlier" is better?

  • Wear this shirt. This one is better.
  • I told you it is okay. I wore it before/earlier. (meaning a moment ago)
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2 Answers 2

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"Before" tends to mean at some point in the past, whereas "earlier" tends to refer to some point earlier that day. Either is grammatically correct, but they have different meanings in my experience.

I'm not sure how much of a rule this is, but I would say "I've worn it before", but "I wore it earlier". This is also what I have heard other people say.

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In conversation many native speakers would use present perfect and many would use simple past in that scenario:

I don't recognize that shirt you're wearing.
--Really? I've worn it many times before.

Is that a new shirt?
--No, I wore it before.

Some would even say

I've wore it before.

which is considered substandard; the standard past participle of wear is worn.

I suspect the use of the simple past there, with before, would correlate with a lower than average "grade reading level" or with a person who had grown up in a milieu where the grade reading level was lower than average.

But before in this context does not mean "a moment ago", contrary to what you say in your question. It means "prior to now".

I've never seen anything like it before.

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  • What about "earlier"?
    – user252319
    Aug 19, 2017 at 12:53
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    earlier goes better with the simple past than with the present perfect, when it means "just a while ago". "Have you seen Bob? -- Yes. He was here earlier." earlier confines the action to the past. before refers to the past event in relation to the speaker's "origo" in the present.
    – TimR
    Aug 19, 2017 at 12:58
  • You're welcome. Just to be clear, these temporal nuances are processed by native speakers automatically, so to speak, without any deliberate cogitation.
    – TimR
    Aug 19, 2017 at 13:09
  • I've worn it before. with an n.
    – Lambie
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:02
  • @Lambie: Did you even read the answer before shooting off your comment?
    – TimR
    Aug 19, 2017 at 15:09

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