Grammar-QuizzesConnectorsConnective Prepositions › After / Before / When

After / Before / When

Relate the timing of two activities

Movie watchers
 

 

Time-Related Activities: present and future

PRESENT

A  connective preposition such as before, after, when, or while may be added to a clause to express that a second activity occurs earlier than, later than or at the same time as the activity in the main clause. If the verb in the main clause is present tense, the verb in clause following the preposition is also present.

PRESENT – HABITUAL VERB IS PRESENT
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

We watch a movie

after he arrives  (later than)  habit

We make popcorn

before he arrives.     (earlier than)

We make popcorn

while he drives here.   (ongoing- same time activities)

We sit down

when he arrives   (at that moment)

We sit there

as long as we want  (for all the time)

We go out to dinner

as soon as the movie ends (immediately following)

We go out to dinner

when the movie ends.   (immediately following)

We go out to dinner

once the movie ends.   (immediately following)

We don't eat

until everyone receives food.  (immediately following)

We pay our bill

as the dinner ends(in the last moments of the first activity.)

We have had¹ fun 

(routinely)

by the time the evening ends (in the time before) 

We have a good time

whenever we get together.  (always)

We have a good time 

anytime we get together. (always)
 

FUTURE

A  connective presposition may also be added to a clause with a future tense verb expression will or (be) going to. However, the verb in the clause following the connective preposition remains in the present tense form.                                                                                                                                                                               

FUTURE – SCHEDULED ACTIVITY VERB IS PRESENT
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

We will watch a movie

after he arrives.  *(will arrive)  (later than)

We are going to make popcorn

before he arrives.    (earlier than)

We will be making popcorn

while he is driving here.     (ongoing- same time activities)

We will sit down

when he arrives   (at that moment)

We can/ will sit here

as long as we want   (for all the time)

We will  go out to dinner

as soon as the movie ends (immediately following)

We will  go out to dinner

when the movie ends (immediately following)

We will  go out to dinner

once the movie ends (immediately following)

We won't start eating

until everyone receives food.  (immediately following)

We will pay our bill

as dinner ends.   (in the last moments of the first activity.)

We will have had a good time 

by the time the evening ends  (in the time before)   (future perfect)

 

 

 

 

 

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

¹ present perfect or future perfect: see By the time and Will / Will have.  Also see Future Time-Related Event.

An connective preposition phrase is a structure that is not required to complete the meaning of the main clause. See Adjunct Prep Phrases.

A prepositional complement is a word, phrase or clause that is required to complete the meaning of the preposition. [We turned on the movie after _______(required).]   See Prepositional Complements.

See Grammar Notes for terms in various grammar systems for before, after, when, while and so on (connective preposition, conjunction, adverbial preposition)

Temporal Adjuncts — also see After / Before –ing and Time-Relative Events (present tense).

 

 

 

 

 

 

When

Recognizing two meanings

Dog coming in door
 

 

When — two similar meanings

SAME TIME

When + clause expresses an activity that occurs at the same time as the activity in the main clause.  "at or during the time"

PRESENT – SAME TIME PRESENT – SAME TIME
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

The dog comes (present)

when I call. (present)                

The dog won't go outside (future)

when it rains. (present)

The dog didn't go outside (past)

when it rained. (past)

 

IMMEDIATELY BEFORE

When + clause expresses an activity that occurs just before the activity in the main clause. (The activity in the main clause occurs immediately after.)

SECOND ACTIVITY FIRST ACTIVITY
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

I close the door  (present)

when the dog comes in.  (present)

The dog will run back in the house (future)

when her feet touch the wet ground. (present)

The dog ran back in  (past)

when her feet touched the wet ground.  (past)

 

See Grammar Notes below for details about grammar terms.

 

 

 

 

 

Past Mixed Time Frames

Contrasting earlier and later past events

 

 

 

Past Tense Time Frames

FOCUS ON THE OCCURRENCE

The timing of two related past activities is expressed with past tense verbs in both the main clause and the clause that complements (completes, follows) the prepositions after, before, when, and while.                                    

PAST PAST
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

We watched a movie  (2nd)

after he arrived. (1st)

We made popcorn (1st)

before he arrived.    (2nd)

We made popcorn (1st)

We were making popcorn (1st)

We were making popcorn (1st)

when he arrived. (2nd)

when he arrived (2nd interruption)

while he was arriving. (same time)

We made popcorn (1st)

until he arrived   (for all that time before his arrival)

We have had fun 
(routine) 

by the time the evening ends (in the time before)

FOCUS ON THE EARLIER-LATER TIMING

A contrast in the timing of the two events is expressed with a past tense verb in the main clause, and a past perfect verb in the clause following after, before, when, while.  The past perfect is optional, not really needed.

PAST PAST PERFECT
MAIN CLAUSE CONNECTIVE PREP + CLAUSE

We watched a movie  (2nd)

after he had arrived. (1st)

We had made popcorn (1st)

before he arrived.  (2nd)

We had just made popcorn (1st)

when he arrived. (2nd)

We had been making popcorn 

until he arrived.  (2nd)

We will have had a good time  (1st)

by the time the evening ends (2nd)   "in the time before"   (future perfect)

 

Also see present and future time-related events | Past Perfect tense

See Grammar Notes for details of grammar terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punctuation

Placing  after and before at the beginning of a clause

 

 

 

Clause Position

INITIAL POSITION

commaAn connective prepositional phrase can be moved in front of the main clause for emphasis. A comma is placed after it.

USE A COMMA

As soon as you get here, we'll leave.

Before I drink coffee, my head hurts.

After I drink coffee, my headache stops.

When you give me the keys, I'll start driving.

FINAL POSITION

no commaNo comma is used when the connective prepositional phrase is placed after the main clause.

USE NO COMMA

We'll leave as soon as you get here.

My head hurts before I drink coffee.

My headache stops after I drink coffee.

I'll start driving when you give me the keys.

 

Adjunct – add on structure; the connective preposition adds a clause that is not required by the main clause to make sense.

Prepositional Phrase =  [Preposition + Clause]  See Prep Complements.

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*I'll make some popcorn. After we'll eat it

*I'll call you before I will get there.

*I'll lock the door before I leave.

SOLUTION

I'll make some popcorn. Afterward, we'll eat it.

I'll make some popcorn. After that, we'll eat it.

After I make popcorn, we'll eat it.

I'll call you before I get there.  Use present tense in the adverb clause.

I'll lock the door after I leave. (After is followed by a clauses with the second activity.) 

 

Also see Time-Relative Events (present tense)

 

 

 

 

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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR

In traditional grammar while, when, before, after, and since are conjunctions which join an adverb clause to an independent clause. The term adverbial clause is used because the clause adds time-related information about the verb and answers the question When? This added-on structure is called a dependent clause because it can not stand alone as a sentence.

Azar & Hagen call these structures adverbial clauses or "time clauses" with no mention of a term for the connector. It is not clear whether while, when, before, after, and since are adverbs or conjunctions.   "A time clause begins with such words as when, before after, as soon as, until, and while and includes a subjects and a verb.  The time clause can come either at the beginning of the sentence or in the second part of the sentence…"

(Azar 4-3, Adverb clauses 17-2; Reduction  18-1)

after, because, though, if
adverb clauses  (Azar 17.3-11)

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In current linguistic analysis – while, when, before, after, and since — are prepositions which take a clause as their complement: a finite clause (while we were walking home) or a nonfinite gerund-participle clause (while walking home).  Before and after additionally take a noun complement (before me).  The structure is called an adjunct because it is not required to complete the meaning of the sentence. (The clause can be considered complete without the prepositional phrase.)

Huddleston & Pullum (2009) use the term "temporal location expressions". In their grammar description, they reassign a large number of items previously analyzed as adverbs after, as, as soon as, before, once, since while, and when to the category of Prepositions.  The preposition is the head of the prepositional phrase (PP) which can be complemented by a noun phrase or a clause (with a subject and a verb, or a clause with a gerund-participle).  (7.2.4, 8.63)

Swan (2009) refers to while, when, before, after, and since as conjunctions. (29.1, 30.1, 73, 97, 411.6, 510)

after, before, since, when, while 
temporal location adjuncts.prepositions  (Huddleston 7.2.4, 8 §6.3)
conjunctions (Swan 29.1, 30.1, 73, 97, 411.6, 510)
subordinator. adverbial clause (Biber 2.4.7.5)
subordinator. adverbial clause (Biber 8.53, 15.28)

 

 

Lexical Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: elements required by an expression to complete its meaning (DO – direct object; IO – indirect object);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.

 

 

Resources

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Waiting for an Acceptance Letter

College Application
 

 

Correct or incorrect? (future tense)

  1. Select your response—correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking each "Check" or the "Check 1-10" button.

 

1.
Elena will be excited when she will hear that she is accepted to study in New York.  (She hasn't seen today's mail.)

   

2.
After a thick envelope came today in the mail, we know that it is good news (because it was not thin—a refusal.)

   

3.
We’ll wait until she will arrive to tell her.

   

4.
Before she sees the envelope on the table, we'll ask her to sit down.

   

5.
When she is seated, then we give her the envelope.

   

6.
Her face will change from worried to excited when she sees the thick envelope and the name of the school on the front.

   

7.
While she is reading it out loud, she is shaking with excitement.

   

8.
By the time she finishes reading it, she has read it five times.

   

9.
She will be dancing around the kitchen after she reads it.

   

10.
As soon as she calms down, we have lunch.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Four Years Overseas

 

 

 

Complete the sentence. (past, present, and future tense)

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking each "Check" or the "Check 11-20" button.

 

11.

12.

13.



Feel
14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

A Changed Opinion

 

 

 

Read for Errors

Before Elena traveled to New York, she was hearing a lot of awful things about New York city. However, she was pleasantly surprised once she had arrived. She saw a delightful mixture of people when she had walked around the area where her school was located. As long as she didn't went out alone at night, she felt safe. It was not much different from her own city of Athens. Friends told her greatly exaggerated stories before she had left Athens.

She had been fearful until she had seen it for herself. Elena enjoyed going to the neighborhood's cafés and book stores while she got her bachelor's degree. She sipped coffee as she studied. When ever she and her friends went out at night, they all walked home together. She held a completely different opinion of New York City by the time she has finished her studies.

awful (Adj) — unpleasant, bad

bachelor's degree (N) — a certificate of completion for four years of college of university study

exaggerate (V) — describe as better, worse or larger than something really is

fearful (Adj) — afraid; a preoccupation of danger

mixture (N) — combination; a mix of different things

neighborhood (N) — the area or region around or near some place or thing; vicinity

opinion (N) — personal view, attitude, judgment

pleasantly (adv.) — pleasing, agreeable, enjoyable

 

 

 

 

Edit for Errors

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 21-30" button.

 

21.
Before Elena traveled to New York, she was hearing a lot of awful things about New York city.


22.
However, she was pleasantly surprised once she had arrived.


23.
She saw a delightful mixture of people when she had walked around the area where her school was located.


24.
As long as she didn't went out alone at night, she felt safe. It was not much different from her own city of Athens.


25.
Friends told her greatly exaggerated stories before she had left Athens.


26.
She had been fearful until she had seen it for herself.


27.
Elena enjoyed going to the neighborhood's cafés and book stores while she got her bachelor's degree.


28.
She sipped coffee as she studied.


29.
When ever she and her friends went out at night, they all walked home together.


30.
She held a completely different opinion of New York City by the time she has finished her studies.