0

Consider the following scenario: My friend just took an exam and I want to ask him how long before the exam did he start his preparation. How will I say this?

How long before the exam did you start your preparations?

Please give different ways of structuring this sentence, especially formally. I'm trying to figure out the way to ask about the period of time before an event. Some other examples to understand what I'm trying to ask:

How long before the party do you want me to arrive? 
How long before the match did it start raining?
  • 1
    I would say it exactly as you say here. – Anton Sherwood Sep 29 '19 at 21:35
  • Any alternative ways? I want to know other ways of saying "How long before." – Zaeem Sep 29 '19 at 21:39
  • 1
    “How long had it been raining when the match began?” – but that doesn't apply as well to the other examples. – Anton Sherwood Sep 29 '19 at 21:49
  • 1
    There's nothing wrong with your original version. But there are probably hundreds of different ways (if you include any minor variation) of asking the same thing. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Sep 30 '19 at 4:05
  • @JasonBassford can you give a few please? Even a couple of examples would be enough. I'm preparing for competitive exams, for which I have to learn formal language. "How long before" here doesn't sound very formal (and perfect). – Zaeem Sep 30 '19 at 7:28
2

I don't see anything wrong or strange with

How long before the exam did you start your preparations?

You could say

How long before the exam did you start preparing/studying for it?

Note that this is quite different from asking

How long did you study for the exam? Or, how many hours did you put in?

A person can reply to your question with this: "I started studying for the exam three weeks ago [does not mean they prepared for the exam for 3 weeks]. But after the first week, I got ill and could not study at all for the next two weeks. I just showed up to the exam today, hoping that I get lucky."


Edit: After seeing some of the comments, I think I should point out that Jason is right in that there are several different ways those sentences can be rephrased. But I don't see any one particular way that fits all three examples you give, as mentioned by Anton Sherwood.

You could say

How early do you want me to arrive [for the party]?

“How long had it been raining when the match began?” - Anton Sherwood

To me, Anton's rephrasing is perfect.

If it is a formal context, then asking

How long before the exam did you start your preparations?

can be a bit confusing because of the reason I mentioned above. Usually, we want to know how long one had studied for an exam and rarely when they started preparing.

But if you wanted to, you could ask

When did you start preparing/studying for the exam?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.