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When you are to choose between two conjunctions, ˜until' and ˜before" for the following sentences, which is more natural?

  1. Most children do not start school ( until, before) they are six years old.
  2. Jake live in N.Y. (until, before) he was thirty years old, and then he went to LA.

    To me, ˜until' sounds better for both sentences, but ˜before' doesn't sound bad either. Any comments would be appreciated.

    Sentence 1, which has a negative verb, is natural with either form. "BEFORE they are six years old" implies that they do not start at any point in time before their sixth birthdays. "UNTIL they are six years old" states a condition "” "be six years old" "” that must be fulfilled. Either statement is OK.

    Sentence 2 is a bit more complicated. If Jake lived in N.Y. UNTIL he was thirty years old, he went to L.A. as soon as he turned thirty. If you say only "Jake lived in N.Y. BEFORE he was thirty," technically Jake could have lived in New York and in many other places before he was thirty. You could say "Jake lived in Stockholm, Beijing, Istanbul, and New York before he was thirty." But this sentence makes it clear that there was no time interval between his living in New York and his going to L.A., because it states "...and THEN he went to L.A." Apple's sentence is therefore unambiguous with BEFORE because of the adverbial clause "THEN he went to L.A."

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One of my friends has provided the explanations. I am, however, confused with the bold parts, that is, does the preposition "until" make a condition??

What is more, I failed to get the bold parts at all.

  • In these sentences it's really hard to tell which one is correct and which one is wrong. Grammatically and in terms of meaning both words fit in those sentences. A native speaker might say which one sounds more natural in those sentences. Please have a look at this link, this might help grammarly.com/answers/questions/… – Man_From_India Jan 9 '15 at 15:27
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As a general pattern, "until" implies something happens immediately after a condition occurs, while "before" does not.

Both "Most children do not start school until they are six years old." and "Most children do not start school before they are six years old." have the same technical meaning. You don't see many children of ages three, four, or five in school. However, the connotations are different. "Until" suggests that children tend to start school as soon as possible once they are six, as though "until they are six years old" is the last hurdle in their way. "Before" also suggests that children start school when they are six, but also suggests that some start at seven or eight, or even never go to school at all.

This pattern is, of course, a fuzzy line. However, it is visible in these two stories about a sprinter:

Do not let your feet start moving before the gun fires. Once the gun fires, give it everything you've got.

Do not let your feet start moving until the gun fires, then give it everything you've got.

In the second sentence the word "until" causes the listener to treat "the gun fires" as a trigger, causing action. This lets us construct the rest of the sentence starting with "then." In the first sentence, with before, it is hard to use "then." The speaker is forced to reintroduce the gun in a second sentence. The following phrasing is awkward

Do not let your feet start moving before the gun fires, then give it everything you've got.

It is probably grammatically correct. However, the first half of the sentence leaves the listener dwelling in the region "before the gun fires," and then the listener has to quickly catch up to the moment for "then give it everything you've got." The sentence formed with "until" brings the listener right up to the moment where the gun fires, so their perspective is more correct for making sense of "give it everything you've got."

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Until works in both; before only works in the first, but even then it sounds a little awkward.

It might be better as

Most children do not start school before their sixth birthday

In general, until is for any condition, whereas before would be tied to an event.

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As Oxford puts it "until" conjunction links these two sentences:

An event that was happening or was committed as an action [1] until another thing happens [2].

"Up to the point event number 2 happened", event 1 was happening.

"Before", on the other hand, is "earlier than something". Look at the following:

An event happened [1] before the other event [2] happened, was or is happening.

Event 2 is more recent in this case. Let's figure out more by real examples:

Stephen Hawking didn't admit making a mistake until others persuaded him.

What does this mean? It means that "he did admit it, but only after other physicists persuaded him."

I always tend to brush my teeth before going to bed.

So, first "brushing" happens, and then "going to bed".

The problem rises because both of these conjunctions are subordinating conjunctions. Now let's take a look at your statements:

Most children do not start school ( until, before) they are six years old.

If we use "until", it means that "children will go to school when they become six.", insisting on the "going part".

If we use "before", it means that "children won't go to school unless they're six."; this one insists on the "not going" part.

Jake lived in N.Y. (until, before) he was thirty years old, and then he went to LA.

If we use "until", it means that "he went to LA after he became thirty"; insisting on the second event.

If we use "before", it means that "he didn't stay in NY after the age of thirty". It insists on his leaving.

If it's still vague, you can comment me.

  • Just note that by insisting I mean when the emphasis of the sentence is on those conjunctions. – M.A.R. Jan 9 '15 at 22:26
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I'm very late to this party, but after reading the existing answers, I'd like to add a little something for future readers.

Jake lived in N.Y. (until, before) he was thirty years old, and then he went to LA.

If you use "until", it means that the period during which he lived in N.Y. ended when he was thirty years old, not before. Therefore he definitely did not move to L.A. before he was thirty years old.

If you use "before", it just means that for a while during his first 30 years, he lived in N.Y.. It does not exclude that he left N.Y. at the age of 26 (for instance). Nor does it technically exclude that his moving to L.A. happened before his 30th birthday too, although it's easy to guess that it's an awkward attempt to convey that meaning.

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