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( a ) If you had left there an hour earlier , you should have been in time.
( b ) If you had left there an hour before , you should have been in time.


I think ( b ) sounds weird, but I cannot explain well why...

I would like your comments, people.
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Comments  
looks ok to me
I have the same reaction as you do, Taka. "earlier" has the implicit comparison "earlier than you actually did"; "before" does not. "before" leaves me asking "before what?"

Changing to "later /"after":

I have no time to do it now; I'll do it later. (later than now)
I have no time to do it now; I'll do it after. (after what???)

The spatial analogy might be:

If you had gone closer, you would have seen it.
If you had gone near, you would have seen it.

In the first, the comparative form in "er" invites "closer to it than you actually did", whereas in the second, "near" only invites the question "near what?".

In all these cases the non-comparative forms act like prepositions which are missing their (required, apparently!) objects.

Emotion: smile

ps "after" looks suspiciously like it was originally "more aft" in the early history of English, but no one nowadays conceives of it as a comparative form.
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OK. Jim. Then, why does, say, "I think we have met before ." or "It had been fine the week before ." sound natural whereas the example I posted does not?
Neither of your natural-sounding examples has an indefinite article followed by a time unit followed by "before" within an "if" clause. It seems to me that one or more of these factors must be contributing to the difference we sense.

"I think we have met before" has no article and time unit, so I think it's a different case of "before" meaning "on another (previous) occasion". There's no attempt to say how long before this utterance the meeting actually occurred.

"I think we have met a week before" is impossible (a definite time together with the present perfect tense), and "I think we had met a week before" again sounds strange in the way that "if you had left there an hour before" does, especially when contrasted with the better-sounding "I think we had met a week earlier" or "if you had left an hour earlier".

"It had been fine the week before" also differs from the strange examples. This time the difference is in the use of the definite article "the" rather than the indefinite "a(n)". "the week before" indicates a certain period of time during which it had been fine. Changing to "a week before" gives "It had been fine a week before", which indicates a point of time at which it had been fine.

Now "it had been fine a week before" may or may not sound as strange to your ear as the other examples. If not, then it may be due to the change from dynamic verbs (left, met) to a stative verb (been). Another puzzle to solve!

Generally, it seems to me that "the [day / week / ...] before" and "a [day / week / ...] earlier" are the pairings that work best, i.e., "during the previous period with a length of one [day / week / ...]" and "at a point in time one [day / week / ...] before the reference time".

This analysis has now, I think, reached the point of diminishing returns.

Emotion: smile
I once heard the original form of "after" was "af-ther" like "far-ther". This "af" is said to be the Germanic equivalent to 'ab' in Latin and 'apo' in Greek.

paco
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I'm merely an English learner and I don't know much about English. However, I think English speakers often use a construction "X (=a period or time span) before" to mean a sense almost similar to "X ago". This kind of construction seems to be often used in an indirect speech.
(Direct speech) John : "I came over from London three years ago."
(Indirect Speech) John said he had come over from London three years before.
OED explains this kind of usage as follows;
"before"; In time previous or anterior to a time in question. Often with adverbs or adverbial phrases of time, as long before, three years before, the week before, etc.
Charles the First, eighteen years before, withdrew from his capital. (Macaulay History, 1848)

I think both of Taka's sentences are OK, although they are a little different in the meaning.
( a ) If you had left there an hour earlier, you should have been in time.
By this the speaker is saying the listener should have left an hour before the time the listener actually departed.
( b ) If you had left there an hour before, you should have been in time.
By this the speaker is saying the listener should have left an hour before the time they are talking.
Am I wrong?

paco
Paco,

I sense that both of Taka's sentences are OK, too, but I think they mean the same thing, and the second is just not as satisfying!
So I'd have to say that I agree with your paraphrase in ( a ), but not in ( b ). In ( b ) I don't hear "an hour before" as equivalent to "an hour ago" because of the time shift implicit in the use of the past perfect tense.

"I visited them yesterday" becomes "I had visited them the day before".

Likewise, "I saw it an hour ago" becomes "I had seen it an hour earlier" or (Taka and I think this next one is not as good) "I had seen it an hour before".

I must admit that the more I say it, the more natural "an hour before" becomes!

CJ

PS. Thanks for the info on "af-ther"!
Jim

Thank you for the comment. My understanding is that 'X (a time span) before Y (a certain reference time)' means 'at the time of Y-X'. The problem is to know what time the reference time is when it is not explicitly spoken. In the case of the sentence "John said he had come over from London three years before", it is clear the reference time is the time when John spoke. Then what time will be the reference time in the case of a direct speech? I thought the reference time is 'now' (=the time the speaker utters the sentence). But you do not agree to this. If you are right (I believe you are right), I feel Taka's second does not make sense. I think it is difficult to identify the reference time to be the time the speaker actually departed.

paco
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