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In some older English texts I have stumbled on phrases where the word "that" is used as part of a preposition. Here are some examples from the KJV Bible:

  • Deuteronomy 9:4 Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, ...
  • Acts 25:16 To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.

There are numerous examples througout the text. In each case, the language would be more natural in modern English with the word "that" left out. And there doesn't seem to be any way to make common sense of the usage of "that" (such as an article or object). It seems to be an actual part of the preposition.

What is specifically interesting to me is that in learning Spanish, I noticed that prepositions "before" and "after" are almost always followed by the word "de", which can have a similar meaning to the word "that". So in Spanish you would say "después de ..." or "antes de ...." followed by the phrase. So these older phrases betray a common pattern that has been lost in English.

Am I correctly interpreting the word "that" as part of the preposition, or is there some other way to dissect these sentences that I'm missing? Does anyone have any insight to the origin and history of phrases "before/after that" as a singular preposition?

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This that is the one which is now called a subordinating conjunction or subordinator: it signals a following subordinate clause acting as a nominal, exactly as it does today in

I know that he is in town today.

This that replaced the ordinary Old English subordinator Þe in Middle English (I don’t recall the timing any more precisely) and continued into Early Modern English. By the end of that period it was no longer felt to be obligatory after prepositions, and might be omitted—exactly as it is often omitted today:

I know he is in town today.

It was already somewhat old-fashioned when the ‘translators’ of the Authorized Version were at work, but it had been established in the tradition which these editors were revising. By the Restoration it had pretty much vanished except in religious and some poetic contexts.

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