Diana, and she is most likely not alone, is wondering about different words that mean “before”. Here is Diana’s question:
It would be a huge help if you could explain how and when to use the different words that mean before. I never know if it’s förr, or if it’s innan. [...] and I’ve heard a word like förns, or something, …
Well Diana, I can’t blame you for being confused There are a lot of words in Swedish that sounds “för” something, actually I never thought about it myself before I started teaching Swedish.
“Förr” has different meanings. First of all it simply means “before” as in earlier or previously. Here are a couple of examples of how to use it.
Vi har träffats förr, eller hur?
(We have met before, haven’t we?)
A nice (pick up) line, isn’t it? :-)
When the teacher explains for example word order the students often say:
Jag har aldrig hört det förr!
(I have never heard that before!)
“Förr” can also, when it means “before” be replaced by “förut” and we get the exact same content of our sentence. Like this:
Vi har träffats förut, eller hur?
Jag har aldrig hört det förut!
Now some bad news – “förr” also means “in former times” or in “former years” which is way further back in time than just “before”.
Förr trodde man att jorden var platt.
(People used to think that the earth was flat.)
Det var bättre förr i tiden.
(“Everything was better in earlier times.”)
As if this wasn’t enough “förr” also occure in phrases like the ones below, meaning “sooner”. Take a look at this:
ju förr desto bättre
(the sooner the better)
förr eller senare
(sooner or later)
innan and före
“Innan” means “before”. The problem is that there is also is the word “före” that also means “before”, and I can see how it can be hard to know which one to use. “Innan” is a “subjunction”, which means it is the conjunction between a independent and a dependent clause. Other words from the same category that you probably recognise are “därför att” (beacuse), “eftersom” (since) and “att” (that).
“Före” is simply a preposition and only has a relation to a noun, not a whole clause. “Före” means “before” as a preposition, but is also used meaning “in front of” or “ahead of”. Let’s check out a couple of examples that hopefully illustrates the difference:
Jag äter frukost innan jag åker till jobbet.
(I have breakfast before I go to work.)
Mycket ska man höra innan öronen faller av!
(“You will hear many things before your ears fall off!” = I have never heard anything like it!)
Det var många före mig i kön på posten idag.
(There were a lot of people in front of me at the post office today.)
Anna Andersson står före Bengt Bengtsson på listan.
(Anna Andersson is before Bengt Bengtsson on the list.)
inte förrän/inte förrns
The word “förrän” is never by itself, but has to be combined with “inte” or other negating words like “knappt” (hardly). Together they translate to English “not until” or “before”. The “förrns” that Diana is mentioning in her question is actually just a colloquial or maybe regional version of “förrän”. Actually my mother often uses “förrns” more often than she uses “förrän”. Remember though, that the correct written form is “förrän”. Here is an example with “förrän”:
Du får ingen glass förrän du har ätit upp din broccoli.
(You don’t get any ice cream until you have finished your broccoli.)
Some common sayings also have “inte förrän”. Please help me with the English versions of these
Man ska inte sälja skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten.
(“Don’t sell the bear’s coat before the bear is shot.”)
Man ska inte ropa hej förrän man är över bäcken.
(“Don’t shout “hej” before you have jumped over the stream.” “Don’t crow too soon.”)
Keep up the good work speaking Swedish!