I've been watching a TV show recently and in one of the episodes the following is being said:

I don't want half my army killed before I've crossed the Narrow Sea.

In the second part of the sentence, after "before", the Present Perfect tense is used, which made me think about the meaning of it.

How does "before" influence the meaning of this part of the sentence?

  • 3
    This is a counterfactual before; it refers to what one assumes will not happen if it is prevented beforehand. This produces odd syntactic conundrums, like how one expands I'm glad my brother died before me. It can't be before I died, because I'm still alive saying the sentence, but it also can't be before I die because then it's a different verb and can't be deleted. Negatives complicate everything. If there's a negative in a sentence you're puzzled about, that's the thing to blame. Jun 15, 2013 at 19:45
  • Wow. Great explanation! I will keep this in mind. Jun 15, 2013 at 19:55
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    @JohnLawler: If you think before I died is counterfactual and can be prevented beforehand, I fear you will be disappointed one of these days. Jun 15, 2013 at 20:45
  • @TimLymington: I'm putting my faith in senility to save me from disappointment! Jun 15, 2013 at 20:51
  • No, not at all. There is temporal before and there is counterfactual before, that's all. They have different meanings and different syntax. Like relative which and interrogative which, or demonstrative that and complementizer that. Jun 15, 2013 at 20:53

1 Answer 1


It means that he doesn't want half his army to be killed before he completely crosses the Narrow Sea. The present perfect here emphasizes on the completion of the crossing.

I don't want to speak with you before I have chopped down this tree.

Until I completely finish the chopping, I won't utter anything to you.

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