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Expressing "before" and "after" with "zhiqian" and "zhihou"

The words "before" and "after" can be expressed using 之前 (zhīqián) and 之后 (zhīhòu). They are very similar to 以前 (yǐqián) and 以后 (yǐhòu), but are slightly more formal.

Used at the End of a Phrase

In this pattern, 之前 and 之后 come at the start of a sentence, right after mention of some kind of event or thing that happened.

Structure

Event + 之前 / 之后 ,⋯⋯

Examples

  • 来 中国 之前 ,我 的 汉语 很 一般 。Lái Zhōngguó zhīqián, wǒ de Hànyǔ hěn yībān.Before I came to China, my Chinese was really mediocre.
  • 下班 之后 给 我 打 个 电话 。Xiàbān zhīhòu gěi wǒ dǎ gè diànhuà.Give me a call after you get off work.
  • 吃 完 饭 之后 去 看 电影 吧 ?Chī wán fàn zhīhòu qù kàn diànyǐng ba?What about going to the movies after eating dinner?
  • 出国 之前 ,他 和 女朋友 分手了 。Chūguó zhīqián, tā hé nǚpéngyou fēnshǒu le.Before he went abroad, he broke up with his girlfriend.
  • 她 每天 放学 之后 都 要 去 上 钢琴 课 。Tā měi tiān fàngxué zhīhòu dōu yào qù shàng gāngqín kè.She needs to go to piano lessons every day after school.

Used as a Time Word

In this pattern, 之前 and 之后 usually come at the start of a phrase, in the middle of a sentence.

Structure

⋯⋯ ,之前 / 之后 ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 他 在 英国 读 完 了 大学 ,之后 回 上海 了 。Tā zài Yīngguó dú wán le dàxué, zhīhòu huí Shànghǎi le.He finished university in England. Afterwards, he returned to Shanghai.
  • 她 当 汉语 老师 四 年 多 了 ,之前 是 教 英语 的 。Tā dāng Hànyǔ lǎoshī sì nián duō le, zhīqián shì jiāo Yīngyǔ de.She's been a Chinese teacher for more than four years. She used to be an English teacher.
  • 老板 刚刚 回来 ,之前 在 休假 。Lǎobǎn gānggāng huílái, zhīqián zài xiūjià.The boss just came back. He was on vacation before.
  • 我们 都 不 知道 ,他 之前 什么 也 没 说 。Wǒmen dōu bù zhīdào, tā zhīqián shénme yě méi shuō.None of us knew. He didn't say anything before.
  • 我 现在 去 吃饭 ,之后 去 见 客户 。Wǒ xiànzài qù chīfàn, zhīhòu qù jiàn kèhù.I'm going to eat now. After that I will go meet a client.

Slight Differences between 之前/之后 and 以前/以后

One difference between the two pairs is that 之前/之后 feel more formal simply because they contain , which is a word common in classical Chinese. Both words are still used in everyday spoken Chinese, however.

In addition, while all four words can mean "before and "after" (referring to time), 之前/之后 also sometimes mean "in front of" or "behind," referring to physical location. (以前/以后 aren't used in this way, but the single characters 前/后 are.) We haven't included examples of the "physical location" usage here, because it's less common and more formal.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books