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I know it is better to just say before noon, but if you wanted to say "before the afternoon arrives" or "before the afternoon ends" would it be correct?

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It's one of those things, that if you don't think about it too much, it sounds OK. The 'afternoon' is a vague period of time sometime after lunch (yes, literally it's after 12noon on the clock). So for that time period you can refer to before it. In the vague sense of the word, maybe before 1pm? –  Mitch Aug 9 '12 at 2:13
    
Sounds to me like "by the time I get back from lunch" or "before I leave for the day"! –  StoneyB Aug 9 '12 at 2:54
    
In answers to question #28498, "afternoon" is several times mentioned as lasting from 14:00 to 16:00 ~ –  jwpat7 Aug 9 '12 at 5:53
    
"Before noon" and "Before close of business" work for me in a business sense. In a social scenario I'd go with "Before noon" or "Before five". Both of these are clear and concise. –  Ste Aug 9 '12 at 15:10

4 Answers 4

"before the afternoon arrives" or "before the afternoon ends"

There's nothing ungrammatical about them, but these expressions sound rather unnatural to my native ear.

As to a better way to word it, that depends on the context. Am I talking to a coworker, about when we should meet with a client? To the appliance store, about when they are going to deliver my new washing machine? To some friends, about when we are going to meet for drinks?

In the workplace, I think "by the end of the afternoon" might sound more natural than "before the afternoon ends." For example:

"Hey, Boss, when do you need that report?"
"If I could get that by the end of the afternoon, that'd be great."

(In this case, by the end of the afternoon essentially means the same as by the end of the workday, or before you go home today.)

If the appliance store was going to make a home delivery, I'd expect them to say something more like:

We should be there before noon.

instead of:

We should be there before the afternoon arrives.

As for drinks, I really don't expect I'd ever suggest to my friends:

Let's meet before the afternoon ends.

Instead, I might say one of these:

Let's meet around four (o'clock).
Let's meet right after work.
Let's meet late afternoon/early evening.

or even:

Let's meet before suppertime.1

I'll offer one more example. Say we're planning a picnic; I might say:

Let's start around two. We'll want to wrap things up before it gets dark.

seems more natural than:

Let's start around two. We'll want to wrap things up before the afternoon ends.


1 (or dinnertime, but that's another question...)

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I don’t know when afternoon ends and evening begins. Night, yes; evening, no. –  tchrist Aug 9 '12 at 12:33
    
@tchrist: as you point out, it's contextual, and some contexts don't even have a definitive time. That may be why so many of my I'd-probably-say-instead examples avoid the term altogether. –  J.R. Aug 9 '12 at 16:18

What the fragments "before the afternoon arrives" and "before the afternoon ends" do is make afternoon into something which can act, which can do something.

While day can break and night can fall, morning and afternoon don't generally do anything; they just are. Consequently they don't end or arrive, and one says "before the end of the afternoon", or "before the end of the morning".

Because the use of before sets a deadline, it's usual to align it with the end of a period, not its beginning, so one wouldn't generally say "before the start of the afternoon", but "before the end of lunch".


Following Kris's comment, perhaps the question needs to be explicitly answered: Before the afternoon arrives or ends is grammatical but is certainly not idiomatic. Using those expressions is not generally to be recommended.

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+1 Good points. It seems, however, the OP is actually after something else. –  Kris Aug 9 '12 at 11:05

Yes. The afternoon arrives and ends at certain times, so this is a way to put it. Whether it's the best way is debatable.

Note, though, that those times will be different in different contexts, but will almsot always be specifically-defined.

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The afternoon arrives at a certain time, but ends? I’m not so sure about that. –  tchrist Aug 9 '12 at 2:05
    
As someone who has to keep track of when Friday and Saturday nights arrive, afternoons have definite endings. Less visually obvious, but strictly defined nonetheless. –  rsegal Aug 9 '12 at 3:08
    
So you agree that afternoon ends when night begins, and night begins after sunset? –  tchrist Aug 9 '12 at 3:12
    
At least in Jewish law, the defining moment is when three stars can be seen in the sky. Afternoon bleeds into evening, then instantly transitions into night. –  rsegal Aug 9 '12 at 3:16
    
I agree that afternoon eventually ends, and evening begins, but when that happens depends on context. At work, that happens around 5 PM. A television schedule begins evening programming at 6 PM (at least here in the US). In other contexts, when the afternoon closes and the evening begins may be based less on the clock, and more on, say, the time of sunset. –  J.R. Aug 9 '12 at 9:36

"Before noon" is non-specific and therefore often meaning any afternoon, but not always. It's also less specific in terms of the timeframe, not implying any hurry. The phrase "before the afternoon arrives" carries some urgency. Even though it doesn't specify exactly which day; could refer to any day; it specifies it's the day, adding more impact or urgency.

This is from my understanding of the phrase in common usage, not a scholarly appraisal of these related phrases.

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feeling a little let down by the constant negative votes and comments that merely point to me not referencing scholarly material or other. There should be room to discuss an answer based on merit. I have no deep education in this subject but I may point towards valid and agreeable concepts. On the other hand I find that the analysis of word/phrase statistics is highly questionable in answers. It's a lively research topic, not proof of anything yet. –  Chris Aug 9 '12 at 2:34
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The question is a little vague, it's true. I agree that "before noon arrives" and "before the afternoon arrives" work in English. Noon does not quite equal afternoon (noon is the middle of the day, and afternoon is after the middle of the day; it's just our clocks that transition from am to pm on the stroke of 12 noon). Perhaps if you're using a mobile you're rushing a little? I'd recommend slowing down and proofreading carefully to make sure you're clear. And there's nothing like reading English to improve your written English. Go find a tolerable book and delve in! Good luck! –  JAM Aug 9 '12 at 3:49
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Chris, from the FAQ: "Reputation ... is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you're talking about." Everyone starts with answering questions somewhere, but the most basic measure of knowledge is being able to write grammatically -- if a mobile interface doesn't help that, don't use it; wait till you get to a real keyboard. If you tidy up the answer so it is well-written and is a candidate to be the canonical answer to the question, the downvotes might be reversed. –  Andrew Leach Aug 9 '12 at 6:59
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I'll add a few words too. You have an advantage over me, that is you are a native speaker (I think) and so you have a better perception of what sentences may mean and how you hear them used. However, you also have a disadvantage, that is you don't necessarily pay enough attention to what you write, because it flows naturally in your mind. Whereas this is very good in normal activities, it is not so good when you answer any of the questions on this site, where grammaticality and accuracy are highly valued. And I also agree with JAM's and AndrewLeach's comments. –  Paola Aug 9 '12 at 10:10
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FWIW, I tried to do an edit, but abandoned the attempt. I managed to reword the opening (Before noon is not specific, and therefore could refer to any afternoon. Because it's less specific in terms of the timeframe, no sense of hurry or urgency is implied.) However, as I started working on the next part, I had trouble even figuring out what the post is trying to say: it doesn't specify any day, but, because it's talking about the day, it sounds more urgent than the one that means any afternoon. Huh? This answer needs serious rework before we can begin discussing it "based on merit." –  J.R. Aug 9 '12 at 10:19

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