Several meanings of 前 and 後

Hello there!
A little thing I wanna ask if you don’t mind…
I have a problem with 前 and 後. Okay, one means front and the other behind. I get it… But I don’t get why 前 means also before. What is in front of me is the future, not the past, right? And 後 is supposed to be behind, how come it’s also after? There’s a logic there I don’t get… Do you have an explanation or is it just something I have to memorize?

Thank you!

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When used to talk about time, it’s more about what comes first on the timeline from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine the events are queued up in a line and you’re the cashier serving them. Whichever one’s at the front (前) gets served before the others.


Pretty good explanation! Thank you.
I will definitively use this cashier image! :grinning:

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I think it is pretty interesting the way Japanese use the words 前 and 後 and it tells us a lot of the perception of time they have and how different it is from our western perspective.

It’s the same in english, and probably many other languages.


  1. previous to; earlier or sooner than
  2. in front of; ahead of; in advance of

Interestingly enough, before can also denote the future:

  1. ahead of; in the future of; awaiting

I wonder what that says about our western perspective.

Thank you for the cashier’s perspective! Before reading your solution, I was struggling to understand how it works. I mean, when using a.m. and p.m., I imagine myself at “noon” with a.m. behind me and p.m. ahead of me. But, when I came across certain program that uses same characters for “back” and “next”, it was backward (at least to me at first) so I was really confused! Putting myself outside of the timeline and looking at past as a starting point. A.M. gets served first before P.M. That helps me a lot (finally!)

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