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.
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) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 93-4) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy