beforehand / in advance

Yaroslava

Senior Member
Russian
I've been arguing to one teacher lately, she's come from the USA recently and told me that the word "beforehand" is rarely used and mustn't be used in formal letters or business language and that it's much more appropriate to use such kind of phrase as "in advance". Is that really true? I often use it and always thought that it's fine.
 
  • Yaroslava

    Senior Member
    Russian
    So there is no doubt that I can use the phrase "thank you in advance" below any formal letter. Can't I?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Beforehand' is a perfectly normal word in everyday use, and often means the same as 'in advance'. However, there are some differences. 'In advance' suggests planning perhaps: it's relative to some current or future event. If I thank you in advance for your reply, I am thanking you for the presumed future occurrence of you replying to me. If we have the agenda in advance, that's in advance of when we'll need the agenda - at the meeting, say. 'Beforehand' just means before the current time. If I ruin the meeting because I'd been drinking beforehand, that doesn't mean the drinking was in preparation or anticipation of the meeting. However, it doesn't deny planning either. Planning something beforehand and planning something in advance are the same, in effect: planning it before now, and planning it before whatever is to happen now.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Entangledbank has explained BE usage well.

    But it seems that many non-native speakers get into difficulties with "beforehand". On one interpreting job, dealing with Indian and Dutch computer programmers, I found them merrily using "forehand" to mean "in advance". When I paused in genuine confusion, they claimed I was wasting time with my pedantry. :rolleyes:
     

    thegreathoo

    Senior Member
    Srpski
    In US it is seldom used. There is seldom any need for it. Phrases like in advance, prior to, ahead of time, earlier are common. Beforehand is not.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    In US it is seldom used.
    The claim that this is primarily an AE/BE difference is not supported by Ngrams, which shows that beforehand is only a little rarer in AE than in BE. In both AE and BE, in advance and prior to occur much more frequently than beforehand, but that's simply because the contexts in which beforehand is appropriate are less common.

    Indian and Dutch
    Oh my goodness. Sounds like two groups who would both believe themselves to be very good English speakers, but aren't.
    computer programmers
    Well, they, of all people, jolly well ought to be tolerant of pedantry, even if only imagined pedantry.
     

    thegreathoo

    Senior Member
    Srpski
    I just took a peek at the Ngram, and it shows the current usage is lowest it's been since 1800. Others are sort of peaking. :)
     
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