The terms "before the fact" and "after the fact" are usually used in a legal sense, as in, accessory before the fact, (and similarly, accessory after the fact), to indicate a person aiding or abetting a crime before it is actually committed.

My question is, can these terms be used in a non-legal context, as in, for instance, learning before the fact, to imply something learned before its actual use is anticipated?

  • 1
    That particular example would be rather unusual - I can't say I've heard it. However I can think of instances where I might use "after the fact" with a note of irony.
    – WS2
    Nov 22, 2018 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


"Before the fact" appears rare, and I was only able to find a few examples:

We train ourselves how to survive before the fact. (HBR.org)

There are "before-the-fact" moral judgments, and there are "after-the-fact" moral judgments. (Moral Judgements)

a thorough investigation may uncover hazards or problems that can be eliminated "before-the-fact" for the future. (OH&S)

Notably, two of these put "before the fact" in quotation marks. It appears that "before the fact" is not invalid outside of a legal context, but it will be less familiar to the average speaker; "beforehand" or "in advance" are examples of more common alternatives.

"After the fact" is much more common - The Free Dictionary includes a few different citations of it outside a legal context.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.