先, 後, and 前 are annoying!

They hold contradictory and interchangeable meanings in my mind. Their vocabs are eating up my brain cells, help :frowning:

後 : behind - after
前 : front - before
先 : previous - ahead

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The person behind you in line goes after you.

The person in front of you in line goes before you.

Uhh, no comment. :joy:

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I like to think of 先 in the context of a 先生. They got their life experiences in ahead of you. They are the ones who had done it all previously.

In a phrase like 先に行く, the person will leave ahead of the others. From the point of view of the others, when they’re finally ready to leave, that first person will have left previously.

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The previous person got in the club ahead of you.

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I think for these it might be worth looking at several words that use the kanji, rather than the literal translations in English. The meanings aren’t contradictory, it’s just that in English and some other languages they may seem that way.

先 is a little special, because it defines a point rather than the previous/ahead. If you think of it as a point in time, the expressions with it make more sense :slight_smile:

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He was the previous one - he went ahead
The ahead meaning only appears in 先回り, arriving ahead. Wait until it starts to mean “tip of something” without wk explicitly agknowledging that fact

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I feel that all the way from my 指先 to my 爪先

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It’s important to understand the distinction between individual kanji characters, single character vocabulary, compound character vocabulary (熟語), and complete sentences.

Vocabulary terms usually have a primary meaning, and it’s quite helpful to memorize that primary meaning over any other. Individual kanji, on the other hand, can be used many ways alone or in combination with other characters, and the nuance can change significantly.

The best way to really understand any vocabulary word, though, is to read complete sentences using that vocabulary.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem with learning Japanese: You can’t learn how each word (much less each character) functions until you read or hear several sentences containing those words, but you can’t read those sentences until you learn to read the words!

That is to say, these distinctions will become clearer (and actually trivial) as your Japanese reading and conversation skills improve. My strong recommendation is to just memorize the primary meaning associated with each vocabulary term and don’t let these nuances slow you down. At this stage, learning kanji is mostly about rote memorization. Actual thinking (what do these words mean?) comes later, after you’re able to read more easily.

It’s worth asking these questions and researching on your own, but you won’t truly “get it” until you start seeing and using these things in the wild, regularly, then it becomes automatic. Until then, it’s best to just muddle through and memorize the primary meanings of as many common characters as possible.


Edit:

Also, English words often don’t capture the actual concept/meaning of Japanese vocabulary words or kanji exactly. (うし)ろ and 以後(いご) both have similar concepts behind the character but use different English words, for example. (Not a great example.) It’s important to start “thinking in Japanese” over time. Translation is much more difficult than communicating in one language.

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for 後 and 前 i sorted it out by thinking in terms of time and in terms of location.
for time: 前 = before 後 = after
for location: 前 = front 後 = back

for 先 I just think of it as a previous.

Dunno if that will mess me up down the line, but that is how I sorted it out for now.

Welcome to Kanji.

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