If I got that correctly 前面 is used for things like 本子在书的前面 or 本子在书前 and 面前 is used for living creatures (the ones with a face) like 报纸在我的面前. Could you please confirm if I'm correct here or missing something and there's more to that?

Is that appropriate to use 前面 for persons as well? My teacher said that for persons 前面 is not really a correct preposition to use.

  • I remember having the same question when I started learning, but looking at the structure of both words reveals how they are used (just like you say).
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:37
  • I'm not sure about if I understand your question correctly. But if you are trying to select the word based on the object, not meaning, you are wrong. For example: 他在我前面, 法律面前没有特权.
    – James
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:43
  • @James 他在我前面 - what meaning this would have then?
    – UVV
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:51
  • @UVV Just like the use with things to express a location relationship: he is in front of me.
    – James
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:55
  • @James I updated my question to make it clearer.
    – UVV
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:58

3 Answers 3


前面 means "in front of" or "at the front of". It can be used for anything that has a front, though in some cases just 前 may be better.

面前 means "in front of the face". It can only be used in the context of things that (literally or metaphorically) have a face. In many cases it carries a sense of "in the face of" or "in the view of". For example:

There are no privileges before the law.
How to present yourself before a person you like / are attracted to.

So your initial suspicion is right.

You can use 前面 for a person, but only if you're strictly referring to the position, and not to the sense of "looking at". For example, you could use 前面 when you want to say "there are many people in front of me in the line" but not when you say "The student is standing in front of the teacher", where 面前 would be more appropriate.

  • Could you please also comment on updated question
    – UVV
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:58
  • see jukuu for more examples of things with a face:用户在计算机屏幕面前输入数据,在红绿灯面前停车,人们来到信息亭面前,当餐馆服务员将我们带到一张桌子面前时,在红灯面前停下
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 10:11

In response to your second paragraph: it's nature to use 前面 with persons.

前面 can stand for "prior" to indicate relationship about logic or time.

When using as "prior", 面前 cannot replace 前面:

He joined the company before me and worked 3 more years than me.

While 他在我面前加入这家公司 means "in front of my face", I saw him joined this company.

前面 mainly refers to a direction, while 面前 gives a sense of something is near when referring location(usually can be easily seen). It's strange to say something you can't see is just in front of your face, isn't it?

For direction:

B:在前面,沿这条路过5个红绿灯就到。(can't say 面前 here since the supermarket isn't very near)
A: Where is that supermarket?
B: In front of (us), follow this road and pass 5 traffic lights then you'll reach there.
  • PS: I omitted some explanations about 面前 which are already mentioned by KWeiss.
    – James
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 12:35

-面前 means in front of your face (something likes this), because here 面 means face, 前 means in front of..

-前面 means front, previous, ahead, here 前 means in front of, 面 means rather field, a zone.

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