Expressing "before" and "after" with "zhiqian" and "zhihou"
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.
Event + 之前 / 之后 ，⋯⋯
- 来 中国 之前 ，我 的 汉语 很 一般 。Before I came to China, my Chinese was really mediocre.
- 下班 之后 给 我 打 个 电话 。Give me a call after you get off work.
- 吃 完 饭 之后 去 看 电影 吧 ？What about going to the movies after eating dinner?
- 出国 之前 ，他 和 女朋友 分手了 。Before he went abroad, he broke up with his girlfriend.
- 她 每天 放学 之后 都 要 去 上 钢琴 课 。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.
⋯⋯ ，之前 / 之后 ⋯⋯
- 他 在 英国 读 完 了 大学 ，之后 回 上海 了 。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 。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 。The boss just came back. He was on vacation before.
- 我们 都 不 知道 ，他 之前 什么 也 没 说 。None of us knew. He didn't say anything before.
- 我 现在 去 吃饭 ，之后 去 见 客户 。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 之, 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.
Sources and further reading
- Home With Kids2 (家有儿女2) (pp. 167) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 93-4) 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） →buy