"before" vs. "prior to"

If you’re someone who writes or creates content, there’s a dilemma you’ve probably faced: whether to use “before” vs. “prior to” in a particular sentence. For example, which one could you use here: “We considered all the evidence _____ making a decision”? Would you choose “before” or would you place your bets on “prior to”? You may be confident that you know which one fits. But do you really know the right answer?

“Before” vs. “prior to”: Which word could you use?

We’ve got good news for you: no matter which word you chose, you’re right. You can use either “before” or “prior to” in the sentence:

  • “We considered all the evidence before making a decision.”
  • “We considered all the evidence prior to making a decision.”

Why can you use either word? Because “before” vs. “prior to” mean the same thing. In fact, if you look up both words in major dictionaries (e.g., the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries, and the Collins Dictionary), you’ll find that the definition of “prior to” is “before.” That’s why you could use either “before” or “prior to” in all these sentences:

  • “Before attending law school, Janessa worked as a teacher.”
  • “Prior to attending law school, Janessa worked as a teacher.”
  • “They needed to finish the layout for the magazine before leaving for the day.”
  • “They needed to finish the layout for the magazine prior to leaving for the day.”
  • “You must let the chocolate cool before moving on to the next step.”
  • “You must let the chocolate cool prior to moving on to the next step.”

“Before” vs. “prior to”: Which word should you use?

Now, just because you can use either “before” or “prior to” in any sentence doesn’t mean you should. It’s true that “before” vs. “prior to” are both grammatically correct choices for a sentence. But that doesn’t mean that they’re equally good choices.

If you read our posts on a regular basis, you’ll know that we like to keep things simple. That is, we always suggest using the simplest words that you can use in a sentence. Simple words make sentences easier to read and understand, and your number one job as a writer is to make your reader’s job as easy as possible. That’s why we believe “before” is always a better choice than “prior to.”

We know what some of you are thinking: “‘prior to’ is a better fit for a project proposal or report because it sounds more formal.” After all, you’re probably used to seeing corporate and legal documents that are peppered with this term. In reality, though, “prior to” is just a Latin-based synonym of “before” that sounds unnecessarily formal. In fact, the Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that some people even see “prior to” as pompous. And you don’t want to seem pompous, do you?

Remember that smart people are impressed by how clearly and simply you can explain something, not by how complex your writing is. That’s why we suggest resisting the temptation to use “prior to” and going with “before” no matter what. After all, there’s really no situation where you would need to use “prior to” instead of “before.”

Summary

“Before” vs. “prior to” may feel like different words that are appropriate for different types of sentences. But the reality is that they mean the same thing. That’s why no matter what you’re trying to say, you can simplify and strengthen your writing by using “before” instead of “prior to.”

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Want more tips on how to produce clear and concise content? Read our post on how to shorten long words and sentences.

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“Before” vs. “prior to”: What’s the difference?
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