Can the word 'prior' be a substitute for 'earlier', that is not followed by any clarifications in expressions like 'four years prior' (and then goes a period, the sentence stops)? Like '[he did this]. [he had done that] four years prior'.

3 Answers 3


That is using "prior" as an adverb, a substitute for "before" or "earlier".

This dictionary calls that usage questionable:
American Heritage Dictionary "prior"

adv. Usage Problem Before.

Usage Note: Though prior usually modifies a noun that comes after it, as in prior approval, it sometimes modifies a noun for a unit of time which precedes it, as in five years prior. These constructions are marginally acceptable when the combination serves as the object of a preposition, as in A gallon of gasoline was $4.29, up 10 cents from the week prior. In our 2014 survey, 51 percent of the Panelists accepted the sentence, with many commenting that they would prefer from the prior week or from the week before. The construction is even less acceptable when it acts as an adverbial modifier: only 29 percent of the Panel approved My cellphone was stolen. I had just bought it two days prior.

It's probably better for a learner to avoid using the word that way.


There are sentences where that is acceptable, yes.

The word prior must be used in reference to a different time. If the time it is in reference to is not obvious then you need 'to'. "Prior to" is used in the same way as "before".

"The building was demolished prior to my arrival."

If you want to use prior without the 'to', then the time or event you are referencing must be stated immediately beforehand.

"I arrived at the building but it had been demolished one week prior."

In this sentence it is implied that you mean: "I arrived at the building but it had been demolished one week prior to my arrival." but the redudant ending is omitted.

With the word 'earlier', when no other time is referenced, it is implied that the time referenced is now(whenever the word is used).

For example, "I went to the shop earlier."

This does not work with 'prior'. "I went to the shop prior" on its own is not a correct sentence as the listener would be left wondering which time you were referencing with the word prior. It may be easier to think of prior as a synonym of before instead of earlier. "I went to the shop before." is incorrect. Before what?


The word prior is actually a synonym of earlier (only in meaning). However, prior can not function as a full substitute for earlier according to grammar rules.

A few days earlier, he had assured me that he didn’t want to come. In this example earlier functions as an adverb while prior cannot function as an adverb.

The word prior can be used as an adjective before a noun in the meaning previous/preceding.

prior night, prior day, prior knowledge, prior arrangement. The course requires no prior knowledge of Spanish.

Or it can be used as a complex preposition with to (prior to) in the meaning before. It is followed by a noun or something functioning as a noun (gerund or substantive clause).

The questions had been asked prior to my arrival. The plane seemed to catch fire a few seconds prior to taking off.

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