We were happy before.

There was a market next to the school before.

I saw a whale before.

These are from a grammar book for kids that I'm proofreading, and this part is about "past simple tense". I would like to ask if these sentences are grammatically correct regarding the use of "before." It seems that "before" should be used with perfect tense? Should I make the following changes? Thank you!

We were happy then.

There was a market next to the school (sometime ago).

I saw a whale (sometime ago).

  • Before what? Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 10:27
  • 1
    In my AmE dialect, *There was a market next to the school before" is idiomatic and means "There used to be a market next to the school".
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:26
  • And "We were happy before" would be idiomatic in a conversation between two people who are no longer happy with each other and talking about it, or in a situation where someone is talking about a life-changing event. In other words, it needs a proper context to justify before.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:31
  • 1
    The only sentence that I find truly unidiomatic (because I can't think of a context where it would be idiomatic) is the sentence about the whale. It should be "I have seen a whale before" if the meaning intended is "This is not my first time seeing a whale."
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:33
  • @FumbleFingers These sentences don't have the context. They are independent sentences to demonstrate "past simple tense." I got your point! Thanks!
    – Stacy Chen
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 2:21

1 Answer 1


Both (1b) 'We were happy before' and (2b) 'There was a market next to the school before' are acceptable; they are deleted forms, and must be licensed by prior context eg

  • (1a) 'The war was a terrible time for our family.'

  • (2a) 'A lot of changes were made to the town in the 70s.')

(or 'before' lacks reference).

(3) 'I saw a whale before' sounds improbable to my ears. The independent clause is punctive rather than durative, unlike the situations in (1b) and (2b). 'The mist thickened at around midday, making it impossible to continue our search for wildlife, but I saw a whale before this happened' sounds far more natural than the deleted form. 'I've seen a whale before' is far more idiomatic.

  • 1
    Thank you so much for the clear explanation and the example with context. I now see that the use of "before" is a deleted form and needs to be justified with context. Really appreciate your help!
    – Stacy Chen
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 1:50

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