After, Before, When, While

Indicate time-relative activities

Movie watchers
 

 

Present & Future Time Frames

TWO RELATIVE ACTIVITIES — PRESENT ACTIVITY

A clause followed by an adverbial preposition such as after, before, when, while expresses the relative timing of another activity in the clause that follows it. For habitual and customary activities, a present-tense verb is used in both clauses.

MAIN CLAUSE – PRESENT SUB CLAUSE – PRESENT

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 had fun 

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)
 

TWO RELATIVE ACTIVITIES —FUTURE PLAN

However, for two future time-related activities, a future-tense verb is used in the main clause and a present-tense verb is used in the subordinate clause.

MAIN CLAUSE – FUTURE SUB CLAUSE – PRESENT

We will watch a movie

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

We will 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 ends  (in the time before)   (future perfect)

 

 

 

 

 

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

SUB CLS — subordinated clause

 See Grammar Notes for grammar system terms for before, after, when, while and so on (preposition, conjunction, adverbial preposition)

Also see After / Before –ing and Time-Relative Events (present tense)  Independent / Dependent Clause

 

 

 

 

 

 

When

Recognizing two meanings

Dog coming in door
 

 

When — two similar meanings

SAME TIME

When may express that another activity occurs at the same time as the activity in the main clause.  "at or during the time"

MAIN CLAUSE SUB 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 AFTER

When may also express that another activity occurs closely after the first activity (rather than at the same time). "immediately after". Note the context.

MAIN CLAUSE SUB CLAUSE

I close the door  (present)

when the dog comes in.  (present)

The dog will run back in (future)

when its feet touch the wet ground. (present)

The dog ran back in  (past)

when its feet touched the wet ground.  (past)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Time Frames

Contrasting earlier and later past events

 

 

 

Past Tense Time Frames

FOCUS ON THE OCCURRENCE

We use past tense verbs in both the main clause and the clause following after, before, when, or while. (the subordinate clause).

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST SUB CLAUSE – PAST

We watched a movie

after he arrived.   (later than his arrival)

We made popcorn

before he arrived.     (earlier than his arrival)

We made popcorn

when he arrived   (at that moment)

We made popcorn

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

If we want to contrast the timing of the two events, we use a past tense verb in the main clause, and a past perfect verb in the clause following after, before, when, while.

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST SUB CLAUSE – PAST PERFECT

We watched a movie

after he had arrived. (later than his arrival)

We had made popcorn

before he arrived.    (He can't say that he helped us!)

We had just finished making popcorn

when the fire alarm went off. (We were done making popcorn.)

We had been making popcorn

until he arrived. (We stopped.)

We will have had a good time 

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

 

Past Perfect tense

See Grammar Notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punctuation

Placing  after and before at the beginning of a clause

 

 

 

Clause Position

INITIAL POSITION

commaA time-related preposition and its clause can be moved in front of the main clause for emphasis. A comma is placed after the clause.

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 time-related preposition and its clause 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 introduces the 2nd event. 

 

Also see Time-Relative Events (present tense)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

Advanced

 

 

Traditional Grammar vs. Linguistic Description

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

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.

In current linguistic analysis – while, when, before, after, and since — are prepositions which take a clause as a 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.)

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)

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

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)

 

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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 cafes 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.