before (adv., prep.)
Old English beforan "in front of, in former times; in the presence of, in front of in time or position," from Proto-Germanic *bi- "by" (see by) + *forana "from the front," adverbial derivative of *fora (from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "in front of, before"). Compare Old Frisian bifara, Old Saxon biforan, Old High German bifora, German bevor.
As a conjunction, "previous to the time when," from c. 1200. Contrasting before and after in illustrations is from Hogarth (1768). Before the mast in old sailing ship jargon in reference to the life of a common sailor is from the place of their berths, in front of the fore-mast.
Entries linking to before
Old English be- (unstressed) or bi (stressed) "near, in, by, during, about," from Proto-Germanic *bi "around, about," in compounds often merely intensive (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian bi "by, near," Middle Dutch bie, Dutch bij, German bei "by, at, near," Gothic bi "about"), from PIE *bhi, reduced form of root *ambhi- "around."
As an adverb by c. 1300, "near, close at hand."
OED (2nd ed. print) has 38 distinct definitions of it as a preposition. Originally an adverbial particle of place, which sense survives in place names (Whitby, Grimsby, etc., also compare rudesby). Elliptical use for "secondary course" was in Old English (opposed to main, as in byway, also compare by-blow "illegitimate child," 1590s, Middle English loteby "a concubine," from obsolete lote "to lurk, lie hidden"). This also is the sense of the second by in the phrase by the by (1610s).
By the way literally means "along the way" (c. 1200), hence "in passing by," used figuratively to introduce a tangential observation ("incidentally") by 1540s. To swear by something or someone is in Old English, perhaps originally "in the presence of." Phrase by and by (early 14c.) originally meant "one by one," with by apparently denoting succession; modern sense of "before long" is from 1520s.
By and large "in all its length and breadth" (1660s) originally was nautical, "sailing to the wind and off it," hence "in one direction then another;" from nautical expression large wind, one that crosses the ship's line in a favorable direction.
Proto-Indo-European root forming prepositions, etc., meaning "forward," and, by extension, "in front of, before, first, chief, toward, near, against," etc.
It forms all or part of: afford; approach; appropriate; approve; approximate; barbican; before; deprive; expropriate; far; first; for; for-; fore; fore-; forefather; foremost; former (adj.); forth; frame; frau; fret; Freya; fro; froward; from; furnish; furniture; further; galore; hysteron-proteron; impervious; improbity; impromptu; improve; palfrey; par (prep.); para- (1) "alongside, beyond; altered; contrary; irregular, abnormal;" paradise; pardon; paramount; paramour; parvenu; pellucid; per; per-; percent; percussion; perennial; perestroika; perfect; perfidy; perform; perfume; perfunctory; perhaps; peri-; perish; perjury; permanent; permeate; permit; pernicious; perpendicular; perpetual; perplex; persecute; persevere; perspective; perspire; persuasion; pertain; peruse; pervade; pervert; pierce; portray; postprandial; prae-; Prakrit; pre-; premier; presbyter; Presbyterian; preterite; pride; priest; primal; primary; primate; primavera; prime; primeval; primitive; primo; primogenitor; primogeniture; primordial; primus; prince; principal; principle; prior; pristine; private; privilege; privy; pro (n.2) "a consideration or argument in favor;" pro-; probably; probe; probity; problem; proceed; proclaim; prodigal; produce; profane; profess; profile; profit; profound; profuse; project; promise; prompt; prone; proof; proper; property; propinquity; prophet; prose; prostate; prosthesis; protagonist; Protean; protect; protein; Proterozoic; protest; proto-; protocol; proton; protoplasm; Protozoa; proud; prove; proverb; provide; provoke; prow; prowess; proximate; Purana; purchase; purdah; reciprocal; rapprochement; reproach; reprove; veneer.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit pari "around, about, through," parah "farther, remote, ulterior," pura "formerly, before," pra- "before, forward, forth;" Avestan pairi- "around," paro "before;" Hittite para "outside of," Greek peri "around, about, near, beyond," pera "across, beyond," paros "before," para "from beside, beyond," pro "before;" Latin pro "before, for, on behalf of, instead of," porro "forward," prae "before," per "through;" Old Church Slavonic pra-dedu "great-grandfather;" Russian pere- "through;" Lithuanian per "through;" Old Irish ire "farther," roar "enough;" Gothic faura "before," Old English fore (prep.) "before, in front of," (adv.) "before, previously," fram "forward, from," feor "to a great distance, long ago;" German vor "before, in front of;" Old Irish air- Gothic fair-, German ver-, Old English fer-, intensive prefixes.
updated on October 06, 2022