Opposite of 先

According to this article, the opposite of 先 is… 先?

I find it really interesting.
I asked my teacher, and she said she had a hunch it came from a Buddhist philosophy somehow, but nothing specific.
I understand that in different contexts, it can refer both to events in the past and the future, but it was my understanding that all usages somehow implied something the subject was ‘pointing’ towards. I can’t really imagine how they’re opposites.
Does anyone have any clues about the etymology?

I’ve always just seen it as depending on which perspective you’re looking at the “before” from.

Something that just happened before now is in the past, something that hasn’t happened yet that happens before something that hasn’t happened yet is in the future.

So it means both before and after if you set your perspective to “now”.


Say it 5 times fast


I would have thought the opposite would be 後…

There’s a similar dynamic with the word “before” in English, actually.

Look at this:

  • She ate the lamb set before her.
  • Before the race began, she rested.
  • She ran before all the rest, at the head of the pack.
  • Still the race before and the road behind her stretched out for miles.

So even in English, there’s a connotation of “physically right ahead” and “back in time.” What we don’t really have that 先 does is talk about the future “before” — we don’t say “before 20 minutes,” to talk about something coming up ahead later, because that phrase means “within 20 minutes,” we say “after 20 minutes” or “in 20 minutes.” Come to think of it, “before” probably corresponds to 前 more closely than to 先 for that reason.


It’s there on the list.

The way I think about it is that 前 and 後 are opposites and more closely correspond to the English “before” and “after.”
And 先 is kind of just there in the middle; it has its own (weird) meaning and connotations.
Although I guess the English “before” has the same double meaning. I never thought of that, thanks :slight_smile:

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Thanks, I understand better :slight_smile:

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