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What's the correct phrase to use in the case below?

It happened the few days before the meteor shower.

It happened in the few days before the meteor shower.

2 Answers 2

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The correct form of the sentence uses "in the few":

It happened in the few days before the meteor shower.

Imagine this as a response to the question "When did it happen?" The response is that it happened in (or during) the few days before the meteor showing. If you don't use in/during etc., you're not giving a time frame, so the sentence is incomplete. What this sentence says is that the event happened during any of the few days before the meteor shower.

Now if instead you modified the first sentence a bit and said:

It happened a few days before the meteor shower.

This means something a little different; it means that the event happened at the exact point of a few days before the meteor shower. The event happened, a few days passed, then there was a meteor shower. This has a bit of a different meaning than the first sentence, because "in the few days before" means that it could have happened at any time during those few days; it could have been the day before or two days before or an hour before.

In the diagram below, the first sentence, "in the few days before", means that it could have happened at any time between the two marked spots ("|") on the timeline. If it happened "a few days before", it happened exactly at the first mark on the timeline.

-----------|----------------------------|----------------------

///A few days before/////The meteor shower//////

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    I had to chuckle at the oxymoron: "at the exact point of a few days before" :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 23:09
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If those phrases are intended to be complete sentences, use the second form:

It happened in the few days before the meteor shower.

In the other form (where in is missing), noun phrase “the few days before the meteor shower” is used where an adverbial phrase is needed.

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  • Is in the necessary? "It happened few days before the meteor shower." sounds correct, to my ears.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:47
  • @kiamlaluno Almost--you could say "It happened a few days before the meteor shower," but that has a slightly different meaning. I explained further in my answer. :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 16:48

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