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‘Prior To’ Versus ‘Before’

If you're wondering whether to use the words prior to or before, it helps to know that one is from Latin and one is from Anglo Saxon.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

Prior to is an acceptable idiom, but when you are tempted to use it, fight the urge. In almost all cases, before is the better choice.

For example, you could say,

Prior to becoming an award-winning clown, Bob was an accountant. (acceptable)

But it’s better to keep it simple and say,

Before becoming an award-winning clown, Bob was an accountant. (better)

before versus prior toIf you’ve watched one of my webinars, you may have heard me talk about keeping your language simple and clear by choosing words with Anglo Saxon origins instead of words with Latin origins, and this is one of those cases. Prior to has Latin roots, and before has Anglo Saxon roots—and before sounds more direct.

I actually can’t think of a sentence where you’d have to use prior to instead of before. If you can, please leave a comment.

That’s your quick and dirty tip: If you’re tempted to use the phrase prior to, use the word before instead. It’s not a rule, but it’s a good style choice.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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