In the previous article I introduced some useful positional and directional words, 下 and 上. Today we study 前 and 后 , front and back.

Chinese look at time as a river’s flow. They always look back at their history, remembering all their traditions:

前天(qiantian) = the day before yesterday

后天(houtian) = the day after tomorrow

前年 (qiannian)= the year before last year

后年(hounian) = the year after next year

前人(qianren) = predecessor

后人 (houren) = descendant

Here are some examples:

昨天的昨天是前天. 明天的明天是后天(Zuótiān de zuótiān shì qiántiān, míngtiān de míngtiān shì hòutiān ) Yesterday’s yesterday is the day before yesterday. Tomorrow’s tomorrow is the day after tomorrow.

我和朋友前年去阿拉伯联合酋长国旅游,准备后年去柬埔寨(Wǒ hé péngyǒu qiánnián qù ālābó liánhé qiúzhǎngguó lǚyóu, zhǔnbèi hòu nián qù jiǎnpǔzhài ). My friend and I traveled to United Arab Emirates the year before last, and plan to go Cambodia to the year after next year.

前人栽树,后人乘凉(Qián rén zāi shù, hòu rén chéngliáng)

(Literally: Predecessor sow seed , descendant receive shade). There is a similar saying in English: Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs.

中国人是龙的后人(Zhōngguó rén shì lóng de hòu rén)

Chinese people are the descendant of the Dragon.

Apart from these uses, can have other 3 usages:

  1. 向前看(Xiàng qián kàn) = look forward; look ahead;

preceding. For example, 前级 (qianji) = the preceding stage

former. For example, 前总统 (前总统) = the former president

2.first;front:前三名 ( qiansanming) = the first three places ( in a competion)

the preceding lines: 前几行 (qianjixing )

  1. It is used to emphasize a movement. For example, go forward; go ahead: 勇敢地去前进 (Yǒnggǎn de qù qiánjìn)

   and here some expressions:

前额 (qian e) = forehead

前功尽弃 (qiangongjinqi) = all that has been achieved has come to nothing; lose all the results of previous efforts; all labour lost

前因后(qianyinhou) = cause and effects

even 后 can be used in other different ways:

after, afterwards, later:

Example: 不久以前 (bujiuyiqian) = soon afterwards; before long

无后 (wuhou) = without issue

后备 (houbei) = reserve

后尘 (houchen) = (literally) duts kicked up by someone walking in front: 步人后尘 = follow in somebody’s footsteps.

后方 (houfang) = logistics (service)

后顾 (hougu)= give attention to what is left back at home; look back

后果 (houguo) =consequence; aftermath

后悔 ( houhui) = regret;repent

Mastering these complementary words will make the difference between you and a beginner student. In everyday life, Chinese very often use them to express even simple concepts. As I wrote before, studying a language is not only learning verbs and structures, but also learning about different mindsets and “thinking” in somebody else’s language.

Next article, other 2 positional characters: Left (左) and Right (右)


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