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Does within mean before or after? Or does it mean both? For example,

Do not drink or eat within an hour of taking these pills.

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    As in @JoeKearney's answer of "I want to live within five miles of the office", which means "within a radius of 5 miles", in this case I would interpret "don't eat or drink 1 hour before and after taking the pills". - Another interpretation would be: Nobody that is closer to these pills than an hour's walk/drive/flight is allowed to eat or drink ;).
    – malach
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 12:53
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    Indeed, I would think the hour extends in both directions around the time of taking the pills. Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 14:51

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Within is a single word. In the sense of your example, it means something like during, or before the end of:

do not drink or eat during the hour before or the hour after you take these pills.

Consider also:

I want to have been promoted within a year of joining the company.

I want to live within five miles of the office.

Within the boundary of my lands, I am king.

See definition on Merriam-Webster.

Edited to point out that it applies to the hour before as well as the hour after. The other answer is better.

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    So, it does not mean that you have to wait for two hours in total, one before taking the pills, and one after taking the pills? Just confused!
    – user17857
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 12:44
  • That's correct - it means you may not eat for an hour after taking the pills, but may do so beforehand. However, given the fact that digestion is not an instant process, I would err on the side of caution and take them on an empty stomach.
    – PyroTyger
    Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 8:13
  • This answer is incorrect. Please see the answer below. Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 9:58
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do not drink or eat with in an hour of these pills

'Within' means inside some sort of time frame... so this sentence literally means that you must wait until an hour after eating before taking the pills, and must not eat until an hour after taking the pills.

In my experience, this is very usual advice - I don't think it was intended this way; it could mean you need to wait for an hour after eating before taking the pills, or it could mean that you have to wait for an hour after taking the pill to eat.

I would interpret it as the latter, but it isn't entirely clear.

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    ...or it could mean both at the same time. Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 12:16
  • Actually, it ONLY means at the same time, not one or the other. However, given the subject matter, it is highly unlikely that the author was so ambivalent about when to take pills. As I said in my post, I suspect they meant the latter of the two alternatives.
    – CJM
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 16:44
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    wait, I'm confused. You just said "it means both; as I said, it means the second." So which is it? (For what it's worth, my knee-jerk interpretation is that the within goes both ways, i.e. there's a two-hour time period when you're not supposed to eat or drink, and in the middle of said two hours, you need to swallow the pills.)
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 22:50
  • It literally means within a 2hr time-frame, but I suspect it would not be intended that way. As I said in my comment, it is unlikely it was intended that way. Guidance for taking pills usually states before food or after food (for particular medical reasons), or nothing at all (i.e. take it when you want). It's is very unusual to advise taking pills either upto one hour before or upto 1 hour after taking food. Therefore, my guess is that the advice is to take the pills an hour before you eat.
    – CJM
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 11:02
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Example : I am going to reach Tokyo within an hour. specificaly says that it will takeme less than an hour or so to reach tokyo.

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In a theoretical analysis of the problems of this kind (that befits a site like this) it is important to separate what follows from the meaning of the words used and what follows from reasonable assumptions that can be made about the subject matter.

In order to do that, let us consider first

I want to live within five miles of the office.

which appeared in one of the answers posted earlier. That sentence clearly does not specify anything as to whether I want to live to the south or to the west, or to the northwest, etc. of the office. So far as the information provided in that sentence goes, the possible locations for my home form the circle that has the radius of five miles and my office as its centre (as has been observed by malach in a comment).

Now suppose that we know that my office is on the shoreline and that to the west of it is the ocean. That would rule out the possibility of my living to the west of the office; the possible locations for my home would now form roughly a semicircle rather than a circle. What is important to note is that this narrowing down of the possibilities has nothing to do with the meaning of within, which hasn't changed between the two versions of the example; the narrowing down of the possibilities is a result of our knowledge of geography which came from some source outside the sentence we are analysing.

Now consider a different sentence, which appeared in the same answer

I want to have been promoted within a year of joining the company.

The word within here is the very same word as in the previous example. Just like in the spatial cases that word does not itself tell us anything about the spatial direction (north, south, etc.), so in this, temporal, case, it does not tell us anything about the temporal direction (before or after). So far as the meaning of the word is concerned, the promotion could be either before or after joining the company. Of course, the idea of one's being promoted before joining the company is absurd, and that's why it normally won't even cross one's mind upon hearing the sentence; we will immediately understand that the promotion that the speaker wants must be within a year after joining the company. But our being able to narrow down the possibilities in this way is a result of something outside the sentence we are considering: our background knowledge of how employment and promotions work.

When we apply these insights to the OP's own sentence,

Do not drink or eat within an hour of taking these pills.

we see that its meaning is not limited to either the hour before or the hour after taking the pills; it covers both. Somebody who knows something about the way these pills are absorbed in human digestive system may perhaps be able to tell us that only one of the two hours really matters, but in telling us that the person would not be analysing the meaning of the sentence itself; the person would be relying on some knowledge that comes from the sources outside it.