The basic structure we use to say “before” is:

【Subsequent Action】まえに【Prior Action】

Both the subsequent and prior actions will be independent clauses and thus end, like all sentences, in a verb. The verb for the subsequent action must be the present tense dictionary form. This is a little confusing for English-speakers because in English we put each clause in the tense corresponding to the timing of the action relative to the present. In other words, we would say:

Before I went to work I bought some cigarettes.

In Japanese, however, the tense of the first clause is independent from the tense of the latter.

仕事しごとまえ、コーヒーをむ。
Before I go to work I will drink coffee.
仕事しごとまえ、コーヒーをんだ。
Before I went to work I drank coffee.

As a native English speaker there is an innate desire to say:

仕事しごとったまえに、コーヒーをんだ。()

Unfortunately, this is not correct.

いえ出掛でかけるまえ電気でんきします。
Turn off the lights before leaving the house.
道路どうろたるまえ左右さゆう確認かくにんします。
Look left and right before crossing the street.
くらくなるまえかえってきてください。
Please come back home before it gets dark.

For nouns we need to use the possessive particle, の.

かなら午前ごぜんまえ電話でんわしてください。
Please make sure you call before 9am.
説明会せつめいかいまえ受付うけつけ自分じぶん名前なまえ登録とうろくしてください。
Before the seminar please register your name at the reception.
You May Also Like

Place of Action

JLPT N3. Formal. Typically used only in writing. における and において you the more formal versions での and…

A Point in Time: ところ

The word ところ means “place”. Used in this way we can form sentences like the following. 私わたしは改札機かいさつきを出でたところで待まっているよ。 I’m…

Japanese Grammar, Vocabulary, Kanji Quizzes

There are two types of quizzes below: (1) multiple choice and (2) free-form answers which require you to…

Changing States: ようにする/なる

We met the adverbial noun よう previously when we looked at ways to express similarity in Japanese. Its…