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I've recently started to follow Tennis matches and championships more closely. Now I often hear schedules mention that a match will occurr not before a given time of day. That sounds odd to me. Below is an example:

Novak Djokovich vs. Roger Federer - 6PM

Rafael Nadal vs. Gustavo Kuirten - not before 8PM

I understand that by not before 8pm, the organizers mean that the match will start at 8PM sharp, or after that, if the previous match taking place on the same court takes longer than expected.

In this context, would it be semantically equivalent to use the expression "after" instead of "not before"?

In that case we would have:

Novak Djokovich vs. Roger Federer - 6PM

Rafael Nadal vs. Gustavo Kuirten - after 8PM

Wouldn't it be more direct and preferrable to just use the word after? The only difference I see between the expressions is that the word after excludes 8PM sharp, but to me that wouldn't be enough a difference to warrant the use of a more complex expression just for Tennis matches.

Finally, a question that may not be for this community, but rather for the Tennis enthusiasts: why don't they just simplify things and say "after 8PM"?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 16 down vote accepted

To me, in this particular case "not before 8" implies "We'll do our best to make it 8, but circumstances may prevent that from happening", while "after 8" implies "I don't know when it'll be, but definitely sometime after 8".

Minor difference, but at least to me personally, the "not before 8" actually makes more sense here - and sounds better.

Note that the "not before" structure doesn't need to occur only when the event follows another event of a similar type. E.g., if one girl is planning to visit a friend, their conversation might be something like,

Katie: "When should I come by?"
Annie: "Not before 10. I don't wake up early on the weekends."

There's a strong emphasis here on the fact that anything before 10 will be unwelcome, but it doesn't actually say when Katie should come (she might come at 4pm, and that would be completely fine), whereas "after 10" wouldn't stress quite so much the fact that an earlier time would be disagreeable.

In that sense, "not before X" could be said to be somewhat equivalent to "X at the earliest".

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"not after" can't be used because how can they predict how long the previous match will go? –  Kristina Lopez Mar 27 at 17:08
    
@KristinaLopez I meant its use generally, not with tennis matches but in an entirely different situation :) –  Alicja Z Mar 27 at 17:22
    
Gotcha. This "not before" usage is certainly unusual. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 27 at 17:46

"Not before" suggests a deliberate decision to limit the time or start time of some event or occurrence, whereas the connotations of "after" are rather neutral.

So in the case of Tennis, saying "after" may give room for people to hope for perhaps an early start, but saying "not before" seems (to me) to mean, "even if a preceding match is shorter than expected or is cancelled or rescheduled, this match will still as early as 8; however, we reserve the right to start late should the situation require." That's just a lot to read.

There's also a lot of tradition associated with sports and sports terminology. It could simply be that that's how it's done.

Edit:

Warning: Hair Splitting Ahead

From a strictly logical standpoint, "after" technically means "a time greater than another time", whereas "not before" means "a time greater than or equal to another time".

In other words, if we're being stingy, the phrase "after 8" doesn't include 8:00 sharp. You'd have to wait for 8:00:01.

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If the Djokovich vs. Federer match goes past 8:00 PM, Nadal vs. Kuirten would begin after 8:00 PM, but if Djokovich vs. Federer finish before 8:00, the Nadal vs. Kuirten match could begin at 8:00 PM but not before 8:00 PM.

The not before covers both eventualities of the previous match finishing early or late.

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Though they technically refer to almost exactly the same time frames, the closer connotation parallel of “not before 8:00” would be “as close to 8:00 as we can manage”.

By setting the focus on the delimiting time in the earlier direction, they successfully convey that if it’s not right at 8:00, it probably won’t be long thereafter.

Alternately, someone reading “after 8:00” is focussed on the potentially infinite span of time that follows 8:00 pm on that particular day. This is a match that could be played at 8:01, 9:45, or years from now! Obviously that would be a silly thing to consider seriously, but “after 8:00” lends itself much more easily to these worrisome thoughts than “not before 8:00” does.

There is probably also something to be said for the expected use of this information by its reader. If one is writing to an audience of people who are wondering when to tune in (or when will I start missing this game?), the instructions “not before 8:00” make more sense than “(sometime) after 8:00.”

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