If they had arrived 5 minutes 'earlier / before / sooner'

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magic dragon feeders

Senior Member
Japanese
I'd appreciate it if someone would answer my questions. Thanks in advance.
Are these 3 sentences all the same in meaning? If not, what's the difference?
A: If they had arrived 5 minutes earlier, they would have been in time for the flight.
B: If they had arrived 5 minutes before, they would have been in time for the flight.
C: If they had arrived 5 minutes sooner, they would have been in time for the flight.
 
  • Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    A and C are commonly used (A is more common, in my experience). B sounds awkward to me, because before is typically followed by a specific time or event. This may be more common in BE, as I've heard British friends say this, but it's not common in AE.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I cannot speak on behalf of the British, but B sounds awkward to me too. I could use "before" generally to refer to the indefinite past, but not like this.
    I find it OK to say:
    "I've told you many times before."

    But in sentence B it looks like the use of "before" requires, as Cypherpunk says, a specific time or event, e.g. 5 minutes before they did. Then, could we say the missing "they did" is inferred? If so, then perhaps even B could work.
     

    magic dragon feeders

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    ---Thank you Boozer. Then how about these ones?
    C: If they had arrived 15 minutes before the departure, they would have been in time for the flight.

    D: He told me they had left an hour before.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Both C and D sound right to me. Good sequence of tenses. But I'm still not sure about your B, so let's wait for some more help...

    I think Cypherpunk deserves gratitude as well, all the more so that he responded first ;)
     

    magic dragon feeders

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    --I think I can decide from your advice and Cypherpunk's that the expression "5 minutes before" doesn't work unless some definite reference point is assumed. Right?
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    That is correct, MDF.

    But here's a wierd and common one that I can never work out:
    BE: I have never been to Ireland before = this is my first time (because BEFORE THIS TIME)
    AE: I never went to Ireland before = I have never been nor am I planning to go. (so BEFORE what?)
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Spira, does this make sense?

    AE A : Did you ever go to Ireland, where there is nothing to see?

    AE B : I never went to Ireland before.
    AE A makes perfect sense to me, even if it will win you few friends in Ireland

    AE B : that was my point. To me as a Brit it means that either you are now in Ireland, or have been recently, or are planning to go there. In AE I think it CAN simply mean that you have never been there ever, with no liklihood on the horizon.
     

    magic dragon feeders

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    --Thank you, Spira. You said:But here's a wierd and common one that I can never work out:
    BE: I have never been to Ireland before = this is my first time (because BEFORE THIS TIME)
    AE: I never went to Ireland before = I have never been nor am I planning to go. (so BEFORE what?)

    --I think the past tense in American usage has 2 types. One is a normal one, and the other is a loose type of variation of the present perfect. Your sample (I never went to Ireland before) is one of such loose types, I think. So the reference point here is "this time". What do you think?
     
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