How To Use ‘Antes’ and Related Phrases in Spanish

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

How To Use Antes

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 había muchos casos de tuberculosis en las zona. (Before, there were many tuberculosis cases in the area.)

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.)
  • No creerás cómo Disney hacía sus películas antes de las computadoras. (You will not believe how Disney made its films before there were computers.)

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.)
  • Controle su ira antes de que ella le controle a usted. (Control your anger before it controls you.)

Note that as in the above examples, the verb following antes de que or antes que is in the subjunctive mood. This is true even when the subjunctive verb refers to something that definitely will or already has happened.

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.)

Ante vs. Antes

Although ante is sometimes translated as "before," it should not be confused with antes. Although the two words are clearly related, they have separate uses.

In modern Spanish, ante is a preposition that means "before" only in the sense of being in the presence of or in the face of. Common translations include "in front of" or "facing." It can also be translated at "considering" or "compared to."

  • Ha subido las escaleras y se ha colocado ante la estatua de la diosa. (He had climbed the stairs and had planted himself in front of the statue of the goddess.)
  • En una ocasión me invitaron a hablar ante las estudiantes de la Escuela de Negocios de Harvard. (One time they invited me to speak before Harvard Business School students.)
  • Tenemos que aprender a ser tolerantes ante nuestras diferencias raciales. (We need to learn to be tolerant in light of our racial differences.)
  • ¿Te gustaría vivir ante la playa y con maravillosas vistas a mar y montaña? (Would you like living facing the beach with marvelous views of sea and mountain?)

Key Takeaways

  • Antes functions as an adverb that, when used by itself, typically means "before" or "earlier."
  • The phrases antes de and antes de que function as a two-word preposition and three-word conjunction, respectively.
  • Ante is a preposition that often means "in front of" or "considering."