There are 2 cases:

Case 1: I showed my children how to cut vegetables a few days ago.

Case 2: I showed my children how to cut vegetables a few hours ago.

Do we say "Do it like I showed you before" for the case 1 and "Do it like I showed you earlier" for the case 2?

Is "before" used for longer time like like days or months or years earlier?

For example, "I have met him before" might mean "I met him some days/months/years ago"

Is "earlier" used for shorter time like hours earlier?

For example, "I have mentioned earlier" might mean "I mentioned a few hours ago"

  • "I showed my children to cut vegetables" doesn't make sense. Do you mean "I showed my children how to cut vegetables"?
    – stangdon
    Jan 18 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


I was rather surprised to discover just how similar the relative usages are for earlier / before in relation to long / short time frames.

Here's the thousands of years version...

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...and here's the few minutes version...

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They look pretty much the same to me. Individual speakers may say the timespan affects their choice of adverb, but those charts suggest that even if they do, any one person's preference gets "balanced off" by someone else with the opposite preference. So learners can treat them as interchangeable.


"Before", in general:

This is about a kind of connection where an event in the past influences (dictates even) an assumption in the present.

I met him before

... so now I am rightfully expected (kind of guaranteed) to be able to recognize him, or to know a thing or two about him.

I showed you before

... therefore I have the expectation (I assert, actually) that now you know how to do it.

We primarily rely on the impact of the thing that happened, and it's not really important, and not emphasized when it happened.

We only indicate the fact that it did (because it predicates the consequence, which is our actual interest).

"Before", in your specific example:

Do it like I showed you before

I don't think we say that.

I think, in a context where "earlier" does not feel right or necessary, we merely say:

Do it like I've shown you


I have mentioned earlier

Do it like I showed you earlier

I sense both of these signify that "not right now", not even specifically recently, rather, earlier (than that).

It's like an extra, proactive pointer for the listener to indicate where among their memories they should seek for the referred event.

Imagine how it could go down without the proactive pointer:

Do it like I've shown you

What? How? ( seeking in their immediate memories ) Have you you shown me? I don't seem to recall anything like that? What do you even mean?

I meant, earlier.

Ah... AH! Okay.

So my conclusion in regards of time is that:

When using "before", there's no emphasis on time, rather on the consequence.

Though it's only fair noting that indeed, if the referred event happened very recently, using it would be weird, and thus it gets omitted or replaced:

I recognize him, because I have met him before.

I recognize him, because I met him yesterday.

or even, all of it pushed into the past:

I recognized him, because I had met him before.

I recognized him, because I met him the previous day.

When using "earlier", it's a correction, modifying "now-ish" to "a while ago".

The impression of its relation to more recent events stems from the circumstance that its usage becomes necessary when emphasis is needed to clarify that something had not taken place especially recently.

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