"He is before his wife."
Translation:Il est avant sa femme.
it is right that 'avant' and 'devant' are not interchangeable.
But 'before' translates to both.
Generally, 'before' is time related, i.e. 'avant'
he leaves to work before his wife
However, less frequently, 'before' is used to mean 'in front of' and it is space related, i.e. 'devant'
It is before my eyes -> it is in front of my eyes
Indeed, "before" can be used as a general substitute for "in front of". It is used in this sense less frequently than in the temporal sense, and to use it in the spatial sense often sounds a bit old-fashioned or like something you'd read in a novel.
"The sprawling sea stretched before him."
"She now stood before the window, clutching her chest."
"The infantrymen took their places before the archers."
"Before him on the table lay the map."
INTJanie's examples are excellent and serve to illustrate her point well: "before" can be used as a general substitute, in English, for "in front of," but it will sound literary/poetic/old-fashioned. PatrickJ is only half-right; using "before" in a normal context does imply some additional meaning, but it's not true that it would be incorrect to use "before" without such additional meaning. As Janie's examples show.
Sorry, I must not have been clear enough. I realise that 'avant' is for time and 'devant' is for space, but I am trying to find out which is for spacetime, which is both space and time together. It is a theoretical physics concept, so if you are unsure it does not matter.
I have tried reading the francais wiki on the topic, but could not find the word that I was looking for.
Because before can be used in English in both a temporal and a spatial sense, we have no problem in using before to describe relative position in the spacetime continuum.
Since avant and devant are separate concepts in French, the question is: what term do French physicists use?
[I agree that the use of before in a spatial sense is somewhat archaic, and therefore in casual speech tends only to be used in phrases with a biblical or legal origin, however it can have that meaning, which allows Anglophone physicists to use it in this way.]
A lot of this stuff you can Google. But I find reading these comments useful too. :-) http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/avant-vs-devant.htm
After studying responses regarding devant (space)/avant (time), it really seems like this statement is relative and could have been translated as either. He is before his wife (i.e. first in all things), Il est avant sa femme. He is before his wife (i.e. standing in front of her in line), Il est devant sa femme.
Yes, men get called before the wife now and then for sure...or re-propose now and then, or beg her to get well or ready faster or ....show respect. Lovely reasons of all sorts. Perhaps could this sentence also describe a rudeness when a man charges ahead and leaves his wife on 5 inch heels trying to keep up..
It is true that in English the word "before" can be ambiguous and this particular sentence might not be the best for demonstrating that "avant" and "devant" are very distinct concepts"
The English word "before" is primarily about time. Even when we refer to people in a queue we are still talking about time. Mrs A is before Mrs B in the queue. We could give everyone a numbered ticket and let them all sit down instead of standing - but Mrs A is still before Mrs B.
If we want to express the physical line we would say Mrs A is standing in front of Mrs B. We would not normally say "Mrs A is standing before Mrs B"
We use before to express a physical location in only limited circumstances. "He kneels before the Queen" - "She is brought before the judge" - "They stand before the alter" - these are cases where something more is being expressed than just simple location - in particular it is not a neutral relationship.
However I can already imagine the alternative argument which is "but I hear 'before' being used to mean 'in front of' all the time". Well maybe it is not being used correctly in those cases.
I suggest you take up your argument with the Oxford English Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, which all give 'in front of' as a prepositional definition for 'before'. Just because you personally don't say that something is before something else, please don't assume that the rest of the English speaking world agrees with you.
OED: Matilda stood before her, panting.' Cambridge: 'He stood up before a whole roomful of people, and asked her to marry him.' Merriam-Webster: 'stood before the fire.'
All of these sentences use before to mean in front of.
You use the example of people in a queue. If you are the person that the people are queuing to see, and you are looking down the line and see Mrs A and Mrs B, Mrs A is in front of Mrs B both temporally and spatially, so to suggest that you couldn't use 'Mrs A is standing before Mrs B' to mean both is, in my opinion, wrong. If Mrs A wasn't standing before Mrs B in the queue she would be behind her, or off to the side.
Matilda, in the OED example, may have been standing in front of a teacher, a parent or a friend and Matilda herself may have been a dog or any other animal that pants, but since we have know way of knowing, the fact remains that she still 'stood before her, panting.'
If I stood before the fire, how was I not standing in front of it? If I were standing between the fire and another person, and they were to describe my position in relation to the fire, could they not as feasibly say 'before' as 'in front of'?
The examples you choose to use all suggest that you can only use 'before' in place of 'in front of' if the person you are before is superior to you, including your example of standing before an altar (not alter) which suggests a priest or other minister , and this simply isn't the case.
I in no way suggested that you can use 'before' and 'in front of' interchangeably, but since context determines the meaning of a word or phrase, surely it's better to let people use their own judgement rather than to tell them that they're using that word or phrase incorrectly.
I might do that if they disagreed with me ;)
In my comment I said that in certain circumstances "before" can substitute for "in front of" but can not be used as a general substitute.
Are you suggesting that wherever we have "in front of" in a sentence that we could substitute "before" without changing the meaning of the sentence? Are you suggesting that there is no difference between "before" and "in front of"?
You reference the three major English dictionaries - having carefully read their entries do you think they are saying that "before" is the same as "in front of" and can be a general replacement? Or are they saying that in some circumstances only "before" equals "in front of"?
I am not sure if we are disagreeing fundamentally or just on the details.
So you are not saying that "before" can always be substituted for "in front of"?
Can you think of any examples where you would say that it can't - examples of sentences using "in front of" where we can not put "before" instead?
No, I wasn't suggesting you can always use before.
I see it as a matter of perspective. We tend to have a perception of the front and back of an immovable object. Let's say you're in your house, looking out of the window and there's a suspicious van outside. You might say 'that van's been parked in front of the house all afternoon', but you wouldn't say 'that van's been parked before the house all afternoon' because from where you're standing, at least part of the house is closer than the van.
Or to use my earlier example of being in front of a fire. If that fire was in fact a fireplace set in a wall, and the person describing the scene was sitting further along the wall and seeing the scene from the side, they could still say that I'm standing in front of the fire, but almost invariably wouldn't say that I'm standing before the fire, because from their perspective I would be beside it.
Interestingly, your usage of 'before the Queen/court/altar' doesn't strictly relate to being 'in front of' either. It's about being 'in the presence of the Queen/judge/God'.
Ah very interesting so you are meaning "before" as meaning directly in front of.
So your car is parked on your driveway exactly parallel to your window and exactly 20 metres away. We can agree that your car is parked in front of your window - but is it parked before your window?
Btw you have my judge/ queen/alter example exactly right. It is precisely because when we say in front of the judge we are not really talking about physical location we only appear to be - that is why we can use "before" instead of "in front"
The feminine of "un mari" (husband) is "une femme" (wife) or "une épouse" (spouse).
Remember that possessives agree with the object and not with the owner:
- "he is before his wife" = il est devant/avant sa femme
- "she is before her husband" = elle est devant/avant son mari
"le marié" (with accute accent) = the groom
"la mariée" = the bride
The possessives for the 3rd person singular subjects are "son, sa, ses", whatever the nature or gender of the owner.
French possessives are adjectives and like all adjectives they agree with the noun they modify.
his/her wife = sa femme - "sa" is feminine singular because "femme" is feminine singular.
Great explanation of avant, avant de and avant que... http://www.tolearnfrench.com/exercises/exercise-french-2/exercise-french-10905.php
"sa femme" is correct because "femme" is feminine and starts with a consonant sound.
"son épouse" is correct because "épouse" is feminine and starts with a vowel sound.
His/her and its can all translate to:
- "son" in front of a masculine singular word
- "son" in front of a feminine singular word starting with a vowel sound
- "sa" in front of a feminine singular word starting with a consonant sound
- "ses" in front of any plural word.
You probably submitted "mon femme", which is wrong.
"ma femme" shows that possessive adjectives, like any other adjective, agree with the noun they modify.
"mon épouse" is also a feminine noun, but "épouse" starts with a vowel, this is why "mon" is used instead to avoid the hiatus between mA and Epouse.