Before the hedgehogs attacked, we were already overwhelmed with badgers

Or: on the use of “ol” after “antaŭ”. 

Why you gotta go and use “ol” after “antaŭ” sometimes?

“Antaŭ” is the word for “before” and “in front of” in Esperanto! So it’s doing the work of two:

  • La hundo estas antaŭ la kato = the dog is infront of the cat.
  • Antaŭ la alveno de la hundo, la kato estis feliĉa = before the arrival of the dog, the cat was happy.

I’ve made posts touching on “antaŭ” before, such as this one.

But sometimes “ol” has to come after it:

  • Antaŭ ol la erinacoj atakis, nin meloj jam superŝutis = before the hedgehogs attacked, we were already overwhelmed with badgers

Wanna know why? Eh?!

What happens when I want to say “the squirrel sang before the cat (sang)”?

  • La sciuro kantis antaŭ la kato = The squirrel sang in front of the cat.

What tha?! When we just used “antaŭ” by itself it means “in front of” here! It only tends to mean “before” when it’s followed by an expression of time, or an event (the squirrel sang before morning).

This is because we’re trying to use it like a different class of word. See, “antaŭ” is a preposition; it defines a relationship with a noun: before her arrival, in front of the cat.

We’re trying to use it like a conjunction; a word that connects two whole phrases together (like “the squirrel sang” and “the cat sang”). That just ain’t gonna fly. If we allowed that, then that singing example would be an ambiguous sentence wouldn’t it? How would we know whether the squirrel was singing in front of the cat, or whether it sang some time before the cat sang?

“ol” is the word we use to help us know which usage we’re going for! Together “antaŭ” and “ol” make our conjunction, and roughly mean “antaŭ kiam” = “before when”  or “before at what time” (which is also usable, but way less traditional and usual).

The squirrel sang, before at what time the cat sang.

It’s the same deal with the preposition “post” (=after/behind). Except “post kiam” is most used!