How To Use 'Antes' and Related Phrases

By Itself, Adverb Typically Means 'Before'

Bolivian desert
Viajamos a Bolivia antes de Chile. (We went to Bolivia before Chile.). M M/Creative Commons.

Antes is a common way of saying "before," but it is often necessary to use it in the phrases antes de and antes de que

The easiest way to think about the differences between antes by itself and the two phrases is to consider which part of the sentence antes connects with. If it affects the meaning of the entire sentence or of a verb, then it's functioning as an adverb and stands alone. Another way of thinking about this, although it doesn't cover all instances, is that if it makes sense to translate antes as "beforehand" or "earlier" (they're both adverbs) then you should use antes by itself:

  • Antes fuimos a la ciudad. (Earlier, we went to the city.)
  • No lo había visto antes. (I had not seen it beforehand.)
  • Yo corría más antes. (Earlier, I used to run more.)

Antes de (not antes de que), on the other hand, functions like a two-word preposition and connects with a noun that follows (or an infinitive functioning as a noun):

  • Fue difícil viajar antes de la era industrial. (It was difficult to travel before the industrial era.)
  • Yo tenía miedo antes del comunicado oficial. (I was afraid before the official announcement.)
  • Llene este formulario antes de salir. (Fill out this form before leaving.)

Finally, antes de que (or antes que, a regional variation used the same way), functions as a subordinating conjunction, which indicates the connection between one event and another and is followed by a noun and a verb (or a verb where the noun is implied):

  • Necesito perder peso antes de que empiece el verano. (I need to lose weight before summer begins.)
  • Mi padre se fue antes que yo naciera. (My father left before I was born.)
  • Antes de que estudiemos el sol, aprenderemos un algo sobre los átomos de hidrógeno. (Before studying the sun, we will learn something about hydrogen atoms.)

Note that as in the above examples, the verb following antes de que or antes que is in the subjunctive mood.

One way of understanding the differences is to look at the three variations used in sentences that begin the same:

  • Lo sabía todo antes. I knew it all before. (Antes affects the meaning of the entire sentence and functions as an adverb. This is the only example of these three where "beforehand" or "earlier" would work as a translation.)
  • Lo sabía todo antes de hoy. I knew it all before today. (Antes de functions as a preposition with hoy, a noun, as its object.)
  • Lo sabía todo antes (de) que comenzara el trabajo. I knew it all before the job began. (Antes (de) que indicates the time connection between what could otherwise be two sentences.)