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If I hadn't left the building 20 minutes ago/before, I would have been involved in the accident.


A student of mine was told by another teacher that 'ago' was the correct answer, not 'before'. Well, that seems plausible; it would be my first choice as well. But don't you native speakers think that 'before' might be also possible, depending on its context?
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Hello, Taka,

This is how I feel it. "20 minutes ago" is "20 minutes before now" (the speaker knows what time it is). If you use "20 minutes before", you need some anchor in time that tells 20 minutes before when/what it happened. So, with "before", you'd have to write something like this: "a bomb went off in the office at 4.00 PM. If I hadn't left the building 20 minutes before (that), would have been involved in the accident".
That's exactly how I see the problem, pieanne: depending on the context 'before' is also possible ('that' of 'before (that)' is optional, right?).

Now. The confirmation by native speakers.
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Yes, but you have to mention before "what".
Yes, but you have to mention before "what".

I know. That's what I mean by 'context'.Emotion: smile
OK! Emotion: wink
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Taka
If I hadn't left the building 20 minutes ago/before, I would have been involved in the accident.

A student of mine was told by another teacher that 'ago' was the correct answer, not 'before'. Well, that seems plausible; it would be my first choice as well. But don't you native speakers think that 'before' might be also possible, depending on its context?

'Ago' doesn't seem to work in written English, unless '20 minutes ago' relates to '20 minutes before the time of writing'.

So in a letter, you might say:

1. I had my lunch only 20 minutes ago, but I'm still hungry.

But in a report of an accident, you would have to say:

2. The forum caught fire 20 minutes earlier, when the system administrator 'accidentally' dropped a lighted match on a pile of unused Smileys.

Similarly in speech: '20 minutes ago' has to be '20 minutes before now, the moment of speaking'. You can't measure it from any other point.

I think...

MrP
the moment of speaking


I know. But what about the case of 'If I hadn't left the building 20 minutes before, I would have been involved in the accident'?

Is your opinion the same as pieanne, MrP?
Taka
the moment of speaking

I know. But what about the case of 'If I hadn't left the building 20 minutes before, I would have been involved in the accident'?

Is your opinion the same as pieanne, MrP?
PieAnne has nailed it, Taka. English does not use 'before' [nor 'after/later'] speaking from now. 'before' relates to a time before another time in the past that's been mentioned.

*[speaking now] I went to London two days before.*

I went to London the day before yesterday. [a time before another past time]

I went to London two days ago. Three days before that I was in Paris.

Similarly, into the future, no 'later/after' speaking from now.

[speaking now] *I'm going to London three days after/later.*

I'm going to London three days from now/in three days.

That's why "the day after tomorrow" works; because it's a future time discussed from another future time.

I'm going to London three days from now/in three days. Two days later/after that I'll be in Paris.

So in your example it's a bit strange because there's been no connection to another past point of time.
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