I am reading "Tristram Shandy" and as a non-native English speaker struggling very much to grasp the meaning of some sentences. Can someone help me with understanding the meaning of the following sentences, both of which start with "e'er"?

. . . and just got time enough to the boat to save my passage;—and e’er I had sailed a hundred yards, the Rhône and the Saôn met together, and carried me down merrily betwixt them.

. . .e’er twice twelve months are pass’d and gone, thou mayest grow out like a pumkin, and lose thy shapes——

I understand that "e'er" means "ever." Do they mean something like "if ever"?

Thank you for your help!

2 Answers 2


This is either a transcription error or a deliberate affectation (or an original misspelling: see note below). What should be there is

ere conj, prep
a poetic word for before
Collings English Dictionary

The two words are homonyms, so the mistake may be understandable. This passage makes sense if read aloud, but if one does use the contraction e'er in place of ere it is no wonder people are confused.

Note: I just looked up your quote online, and that spelling is indeed present in the texts I could find there. One may chalk it up to writers not being particularly attentive to spelling in those days. Cf. Boswell's use of "eat" meaning "ate" in his London journals (which are exactly contemporaneous with Tristram Shandy, etc.)

  • This totally makes sense! Thank you! I searched through the kindle version of the book and found that the author uses both ere and e'er as "before."
    – normanmo
    Aug 15, 2019 at 22:16

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I believe it is a transcription (or OCR) error, perpetuated because sites copy from each other. A scanned 1823 edition shows 'ere' (before).

  • 1
    I checked the scanned 1765 edition (probably the first edition) and "e'er" was used for both sentences. It could be that the later editions fixed them as an error.
    – normanmo
    Aug 16, 2019 at 23:58

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