Time Expression: 전에
Time is an important reference point we give during conversations. Time is one of the biggest reference points we have. So, it won’t surprise you that there are countless of ways to express time in any language. One of the ways Korean has is 전에, this time expression means as much as ‘before’ or ‘ago’. This time expression is rather easy to use, you just need to know a few details.
Action And Time
전에, along with its antonym 후에, is probably one of the easier grammar topics you’ll need to claim mastery over basic Korean. As already mentioned 전에 means as much as “before” or “ago” in English. This time expression can be used generally with time, other nouns or verbs. However, there are a few details you need to know so you can use it properly.
The first detail you need to realize has to do with time. You need to realize some nouns Korean has for time have particular differences in meaning. A common example of this is perhaps 시 and 시간. Both words can simply be translated as ‘hour’, but they still have a completely different meaning. The Korean word 시 is ‘hour’, but in the sense of ‘X O’clock’, while 시간 is ‘hour’ in the sense of a period of time of 60 minutes. This difference in meaning is vitally important for using it with 전에 since it will have meaningful difference in meaning. Let’s look at two examples:
Example 1: 1 시 전에 사무실에 오세요. | ‘Please come to the office before 1 O’clock.’
Example 2: 1 시간 전에 사무실에 오세요. | ‘Please come to the office an hour before’.
Notice the meaningful differences between both sentences. In the sentence of the first example, the listener needs to go to the office before 1 O’clock such as 12 O’clock or 11 O’clock. However, the second sentence informs the listener he needs to come an hour before something else. Perhaps a meeting was planned at 15:00 and the speaker would like the listener to come to the office an hour earlier.
This is just one example of a Korean semantic difference you need to keep in mind when dealing with time especially with grammar topics such as 전에. Keep this in mind when learning Korean words of time such as 월/달, 시/시간, etc.
Not All Nouns
While I did mention you can use 전에 with nouns, I also need to mention it cannot be used with all nouns. You can only use it with nouns that imply action. This means that you can only actually use it with nouns to which you can attach 하다 such as 운동(하다), 여행(하다), etc. Of course, you can also use it with the -기 noun versions of all other verbs such a 먹기, 읽기, etc. Don’t forget this is still possible with the 하다 verbs as well.
How to Use
Using 전에 from a grammatical point of view is not hard at all. In fact it is probably one of the easiest grammar topics you will come across. The clause with 전에 is written at the front of the sentence. The word accompanying 전에 is simply written in front of 전에 itself. You needn’t attach any particle or ending to make it work.
Only If you want to use a verb with 전에 you need to do something. If you want to do that, you simply need to transform the verb into a noun using the -기 ending.
With all that information you now know how to use 전에. I’ll be writing a similar post on 후에 soon. But, the truth of the matter is, 후에 is very identical to 전에, except when it comes to verbs.