Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL (2002, pg. 356 footnotes) identifies last and next as (potential) members of the determinative category when used in temporal deictic expressions such as last week, next year, and where they contrast with the central determinative this.

Is it reasonable, then, to assert that after and before could also fall under the determinative category in certain contexts?

Compare the following:

They will consider [this/last/next] Christmas to be suitable.

They will consider [before/after] Christmas to be suitable.

It seems that after and before determine when will be suitable, while this, last and next determine which Christmas will be suitable (subsequently determining when will be suitable as well, due to the fact that Christmas is a culturally determined time-unit).


  1. Can after and before fall under the determinative category in certain contexts?
  2. Is it reasonable to sub-classify this, last, next, before, after etc. as temporal determiners when used in certain contexts?

3 Answers 3


"After" and "before" cannot be determiners for the simple reason that they do not situate, identify or characterize a particular Christmas or group of Christmases among all possible Christmases in every possible situation; this is, put roughly, what determiners do in any given noun phrase.

  • a Christmas as any other
  • this Christmas
  • yet another Christmas
  • the Christmas before last

Instead, they situate something with respect to Christmas, that is, the period in the year called Christmas, and this period can be considered as a particular one or as the period in general.

  • New Year's Day is one week after Christmas (all New Year's Days <==> all Christmases; general)
  • That year we went skiing before Christmas (skiing in the given year <==> the particular Christmas of that year.)

This principle, the fact that prepositions express a relation between two entities, has no exception; this is one important reason why "after" and "before" cannot have the nature of determiners.

They will consider [before/after] Christmas to be suitable. (suitable time <==> Christmas (either a particular Christmas or all Christmases that the context makes possible)

Addition due to a comment of user Araucaria - Him
(BUT: What do this and that show, then, if it is not a relationship between two entities? And how about my or his and so forth?)

That's an interesting point. In certain cases (demonstratives, possessives, … ) there is an apparent such relationship, true; however it is not embodied by a grammatical relationship in the construction. For instance, in "His school is located out of the city." there is no term in the clause entering into a grammatical relationship with "school" from which "possession" could be inferred. In "James goes to his school on foot." there is a term in the clause that could connect to "school" and the relationship between the two could be '"James" is the noun to be put for "his"', but there is no certitude; only the context will allow to determine that. The relationship is not grammatical, merely semantic. If "his" is really put in the place of "James", it is not possible to not use a preposition ("James goes to the school of James…") (equivalent to "'s"); the determiner "his" becomes the determinative "of James" ("James'"). So, in some cases we do have this very relationship, but semantic, and it becomes grammatical only when using the 'awkward "of"'; In "They go swimming after school" "after" connects grammatically "school" to "go swimming", as "after school" is considered to be a time adverbial that makes precise when the action of going swimming occurs. All of this is not, of course, the final word on this subject, and all points considered deserve to be examined more thouroughly.

  • I far prefer this 'what-they-do'-inclusive (/-informed) approach to the purely distributional (in what syntactic contexts it occurs) approach H & P opt for. The parenthetical clarifying insertion of a determiner << after (this) Christmas >> to identify the particular instance of Christmas involved shows the contrast between what is a temporal marker and what is a (defining) determiner. Apr 16 at 11:14
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    You're missing the point. "This and "that", are demonstratives which can hardly be said of "before" and "after". Further, the footnote on p356 that the OP refers to says "We might also include ...", so CGEL is not totally committed to it. Waste of time debating it.
    – BillJ
    Apr 16 at 11:22
  • @BillJ I am not missing the point; "Is it reasonable to sub-classify this, last, next, before, after etc. as temporal determiners when used in certain contexts?" No, there is no possibility of classifying a preposition also as a determiner; that is my answer. A determiner never expresses a relationship between two entities.
    – LPH
    Apr 16 at 11:44
  • @LPH +1 BUT: What do this and that show, then, if it is not a relationship between two entities? And how about my or his and so forth? Apr 16 at 12:48
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    @KyleF.Hartzenberg On this basis it is but a simple step to consider the identity as the "nul identity". This generalization to "identification" in grammar is a personal idea (as well of some of those in the explanations above): I don't remember reading anything about this manner of looking at the problem, and this, if possible should be kept in mind until more information permits to know whether it can be claimed to be a useful approach or not. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Apr 17 at 0:58

Huddleston & Pullum (2002) actually address this question themselves on pp. 646-647; one of their examples closely parallels your own:

They won’t consider after Christmas, of course, to be soon enough.

They argue that, in sentences like this, a prepositional phrase is capable of functioning as a subject or object, even though those roles are prototypically filled by noun phrases.

I don't think it would make much sense to treat "after" as a determinative here. After all, you can combine it with other determiners:

They won't consider after the holidays to be soon enough.

Note that, unlike last and next, after doesn't contrast with this here; replacing it with this makes the sentence ungrammatical:

* They won't consider this the holidays to be soon enough.

  • 4
    @KyleF.Hartzenberg Maybe it's just me, but "After the holidays sound like good times" sounds completely ungrammatical to me, even in the context you mention.
    – alphabet
    Apr 16 at 4:08
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    (One note: "After the holidays are some fun events" isn't an exception, because it's just an example of subject-dependent inversion, as in "In the kitchen were five men.")
    – alphabet
    Apr 16 at 5:20
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    You could replace "before" with a lot of other prepositions (during, over, around, near, towards, at, and quasi-prepositions like approaching, in the vicinity of...) so you'd have to accept that (probably) all prepositions were determiners. Are you willing to do that?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 16 at 8:56
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    @KyleF.Hartzenberg The point is that "this" and "that" are demonstratives, unlike "last" and "next", which are simply preps that obviously cannot be seen to be in contrast with the demonstratives.
    – BillJ
    Apr 16 at 10:55
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    @KyleF.Hartzenberg Note that 'next Christmas' is a Christmas. So are 'that Christmas/ the Christmas/ some Christmas/ any Christmas/ every Christmas' Christmases too. But before Christmas isn't a Christmas, and neither is after Christmas. Incidentally, there are lost of reasons to think that next and last are NOT determinatives too. Which is probably why CGEL hedge their bets. Apr 16 at 12:47

"before/after " is essentially a short form of "the time period before/after ". So "before" and "after" are being used as prepositions, but the noun that they qualify has been elided.

  • This did cross my mind after my post and subsequent discussion with alphabet. I think incorporating the possibility of ellipsis in an analysis is another useful way of drawing a distinction. Thank you. Apr 16 at 23:59
  • Yes. What CGEL said in § 6 “Grammaticised prepositions” (p. 647)... “The underlined phrases in [ii] are interpreted in the same way as the area under the desk, the area just above the front door, some time after Christmas, and syntactically they behave in the same way as these NPs.” (Where, e.g., [ii a] is We must prevent under the desk from getting too untidy. Apr 17 at 2:22
  • @TinfoilHat I often see people quoting CGEL here. Is there an online version of it? I tried searching for it last week but failed.
    – Barmar
    Apr 17 at 15:53
  • I don't know if there’s a “legal” non-pirated source available—I haven't seen one. I have online access through an academic license. Apr 18 at 4:14

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