Read the following sentence and wondered if "front" also means "before" or "prior to", but there was no such meaning in a dictionary.

A noun usually has to have a determiner in front of it:
the drum, Our children

and next page in the same place:

Place what and such in front of a or an in exclamations:
What an awful day.
I've never seen such a crowd.

Doesn't it actually mean "before" in the mentioned contexts?

  • 1
    Strictly speaking, the answer to the question in your title is "no": "front" and "before" are not synonyms. You can't say "In general, the apostrophe goes front the s". "In front of" is, as far as I can tell, a synonym, though, at least when you're using "before" in the spatial sense, as opposed to temporal.
    – anon
    Feb 8, 2016 at 16:42
  • Two of the answers below refer to in front of as a "prepositional phrase". It is not; a transitive preposition phrase includes both the preposition and its complement. If you'd like to consider in front of to be a single preposition, then you can call it a "compound preposition" instead.
    – user230
    Apr 9, 2016 at 3:19

4 Answers 4


"Front" alone does not mean before, but the prepositional phrase "In front of" can usually be replaced with "before"

"Before" can be mean either in front of something in space, or earlier in time. It is quite common in both roles.

"Prior to" is only used for something earlier in time.

"In front of" is only used for something earlier in space.

So "before" has the broadest usage, and can be used in place of "prior to" or "in front of", but you can't use "in front of" in place of "prior to"


Yes, the prepositional phrase, "in front of" can replace the preposition "before" in the examples you've given. Other examples include the following:

"Her name was before mine on the list." = "Her name was in front of mine on the list."

"That happened before my time with them." = "That happened prior to my time with them."

"He was in front of me in line." = "He was before me in line."

"I had four choices before me." = "I had four choices in front of me."

"She stood in front of the congregation." = "She stood before the congregation."

EDIT: Based on comments, the last pair of examples may seem unequal to some readers (although not to me), but they show yet another way that "in front of" can replace "before" in the English language, regardless of one's interpretation. I also added two more example pairs above.

  • in which case both before and in front of usually mean facing rather than one after the other, which before often means.
    – njzk2
    Feb 8, 2016 at 4:37
  • 1
    @njzk2 it doesn't necessarily mean facing, she and the congregation could all be facing the same direction towards the altar, in which case there is an order.
    – Peter
    Feb 8, 2016 at 13:27
  • 6
    In the last example, "standing before the congregation" would normally imply facing them or possibly being the focus of their attention, whereas "in front of the congregation" wouldn't have that bias in the meaning.
    – Separatrix
    Feb 8, 2016 at 13:57
  • 1
    My opponent stands before me! "She stood before his admiring eyes" does not necessarily mean they were facing each other, in fact that might be awkward.
    – Peter
    Feb 8, 2016 at 16:59
  • 1
    @Peter, both of those are focus of attention examples.
    – Separatrix
    Feb 8, 2016 at 18:37

Yes it can. At the market: "you have fewer items in your hand, you can go before me." means the same as: "Why don't you get in front of me?"

The opposite can also be said: "I used to eat those, before I found out they were so bad for me." and you can say: "I used to eat those kinds of things, but that's all behind me now."

(Unrelated, but this is also the case in Japanese.)

Coming FROM a direction or going TO a direction also works for time. "My career is headed in that direction." = Will be in that future. "I came from there myself" can mean "I was raised with the same values myself"

Also: "I know where you are coming from" means "I understand why you think that way, because my thoughts formed for the same reasons" Although the last example has more to do with just understanding thought processes due to similar past experiences that formed our decision-making process, than it has to do with the actual time or place these thoughts took place.


I checked several dictionaries now (which nobody normally does when looking up a word) after reading the answers provided and only in two of them (Merriam-webster and Wikitionary), "before" was directly mentioned as a possible meaning and even in the examples one brought for it -A tree stood in front of the house- it doesn't necessarily translate "before" in one's mind.
Personally, I feel this usage of it has some degree of vagueness that could easily lead a reader to misunderstanding and would use "before" instead of "in front of" whenever needed.

  • It's actually perfectly normal to check multiple dictionaries, especially now that it's so easy to do. I suggest using OneLook as a starting point.
    – user230
    Apr 9, 2016 at 3:16

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