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Difference between 前 and 先?

Alucina

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I've been learning Japanese for a while, and these 2 characters confuse me. They both seem to mean (before) yet are still used in different contexts? Can someone help clarify please?
 

Mike Cash

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前 in front of something or before something
先 on the other/far side of something

The confusion comes from things like 先月 or 先週, which from an English perspective we would view as talking about being "born before" or the week before this one. That works if you envision a timeline you are looking at from past-present-future.

@------A------B-----C----->

with your starting frame of reference being the @ mark.

A is before B. This is an absolute relation. Viewed from anywhere on the line, A is always said to be before B.

先 is a relative reference. Things can run in either direction on the timeline and everything is relative to the speaker's position on it.

Viewed from @:

BはAの先
CはBの先


Viewed from C:

AはBの先
@はAの先

So just remember that 前 is an absolute reference (doesn't change with viewpoint) and 先 is a relative reference (always depends on viewpoint).
 
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OoTmaster

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I never even knew there was a difference. That's an amazing explanation by the way. I've used both 前 and 先 in context and never knew the reasoning why I was using one and not the other.
 

Alucina

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前 in front of something or before something
先 on the other/far side of something

The confusion comes from things like 先月 or 先週, which from an English perspective we would view as talking about being "born before" or the week before this one. That works if you envision a timeline you are looking at from past-present-future.

@------A------B-----C----->

with your starting frame of reference being the @ mark.

A is before B. This is an absolute relation. Viewed from anywhere on the line, A is always said to be before B.

先 is a relative reference. Things can run in either direction on the timeline and everything is relative to the speaker's position on it.

Viewed from @:

BはAの先
CはBの先


Viewed from C:

AはBの先
@はAの先

So just remember that 前 is an absolute reference (doesn't change with viewpoint) and 先 is a relative reference (always depends on viewpoint).

I understand now, thanks a lot. That was a great explanation!
 

Toritoribe

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Note that 先 can mean "last/in the near past" when it's not modified by any attributive phrase/clause.
e.g.
先の日曜日: the last Sunday
この先の日曜日: Sunday in the future

These two 先 have different pitch accents. The former 先 is type 2 /サキ]/, i.e., the accent is on the second mora, and the latter is type 0 /サキ=/, i.e., flat. The former one has the same function as 先月 or 先週, as Mike-san mentioned. Thus, この前の日曜日 / 先の日曜日and この先の日曜日 are opposite in meaning.
 

Alucina

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Note that 先 can mean "last/in the near past" when it's not modified by any attributive phrase/clause.
e.g.
先の日曜日: the last Sunday
この先の日曜日: Sunday in the future

These two 先 have different pitch accents. The former 先 is type 2 /サキ]/, i.e., the accent is on the second mora, and the latter is type 0 /サキ=/, i.e., flat. The former one has the same function as 先月 or 先週, as Mike-san mentioned. Thus, この前の日曜日 / 先の日曜日and この先の日曜日 are opposite in meaning.

Oh wow, thank you. I still have much to learn in Japanese. I'll be more careful with my pronunciation now.
 

OoTmaster

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Thus, この前の日曜日 / 先の日曜日and この先の日曜日 are opposite in meaning.

Do この前の日曜日 and 先の日曜日 mean the exact same thing? If so could you say その前の日曜日 to mean a Sunday sometime previous to the last one? I'm guessing the context would imply which one you were talking about.
 

Toritoribe

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Do この前の日曜日 and 先の日曜日 mean the exact same thing?
Yes, both mean "the last Sunday". 先の sounds more classical/less colloquial.

If so could you say その前の日曜日 to mean a Sunday sometime previous to the last one? I'm guessing the context would imply which one you were talking about.
Yes, it depends on what その refers to.
e.g.
先々週の日曜日は寒かったが、その前の日曜日は暑かった。
その前の日曜日 = three weeks ago last Sunday

試合は再来週の月曜日だから、その前の日曜日に出発しよう。
その前の日曜日 = two weeks from Sunday
 
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These two 先 have different pitch accents. The former 先 is type 2 /サキ]/, i.e., the accent is on the second mora, and the latter is type 0 /サキ=/, i.e., flat.
Is there a handy online service to check pitch accents?
 
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Frankly, i'm not impressed with Japanese Accent Study Website
Which reminds me of my previous attempts to get more insight into Japanese pitch accent. Perhaps it's a good idea to search for some videos on that matter on youtube. But for the time being i feel like postponing it once again.
 
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