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In Mandarin, if you want to express "three years after" or "after three years", 之 should be used such that it is 两年之后. This is also true of 之前 and 之内 (e.g. 第二次世界大战之前。, 我三天之内一定做得完。).

However, now I wonder if it is possible to omit 之, and write it as 两年后 or 第二次世界大战前. Is this grammatically correct? Or is it wrong but nonetheless used everywhere? (I know these phrases are often used but would like to know if it is correct.)

  • look at examples in jukuu – user6065 Aug 30 '17 at 12:51
  • @user6065 I checked it out and got many examples. I also noted it in "(I know these phrases are often used but would like to know if it is correct.)". – Blaszard Aug 30 '17 at 12:53
  • 之 can be replaced by 以 if not omitted, grammar topic(外国人实用汉语语法):方位词组(phrase of locality)表示时间:夜里,晚上, 三天前饭后 ,一个星期左右,一个月以前,(no mention of 之 only 以) 之 supplies official color – user6065 Aug 30 '17 at 13:13
  • according to C. grammar 前,后,内,etc. are special types of nouns (方位词), cf."实用现代汉语语法"(一)。。。用于名词或名词短语后表示时间:三天前(后),十年后,三个月内,其中,本世纪中, (二)合成方位词1。合成方位词的构成。单纯方位词前边加上"以"或"之"或者(for position)后边加上"边"、"面"、"头"要读轻声。不同的方位词与"以"、"边"等组合的情况不完全相同。 – user6065 Aug 30 '17 at 13:53
  • @fefe Is 第二次世界战争 not a correct word? It was written as such in my textbook. – Blaszard Aug 31 '17 at 16:21
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...前 and ...内 are the short version of 之前 and 之内 respectively.

They are completely interchangeable, ...前==之前, ...内==之内. 三天前==三天之前,三天内==三天之内,第二次世界大战前==第二次世界大战之前

...后==之后 is the same thing. 两年后==两年之后

The only difference is longer ones look more formal.

  • Thanks. So is the rhythm of a syllable also considered here? (e.g. if omitting 之 is better phonetically, it should be omitted, etc...) – Blaszard Aug 30 '17 at 12:54
  • ...前 is used more often than 之前, because it's concise. 之前 is a bit redundant. 之 was inherited from ancient Chinese like 其, so it's only used in certain fixed scenarios. But sometimes in a song or poem, in order to make each line aligned or for some kind of rhyme considerations, they might intentionally add 之. "十年", a Chinese song, they put “十年之前” for this kind of consideration. – dan Aug 30 '17 at 23:08
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    If what before “前" has only one character, you usually will not use "之前". E.g., for 饭前, you usually will not say 饭之前, although I think people can understand. – fefe Aug 31 '17 at 2:07
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    @fefe Yeah, I'd been thinking about that case too. 饭之前 is a bit odd as people rarely say it. However, 晚饭之前 or 午饭之前 sounds natural. It's tricky, huh! – dan Aug 31 '17 at 4:28
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之 mostly means 的 ~之前 = ~的前面 ~之后 = ~的后面 ~之内 = ~的里面

if ~ is time, ~之前 = before~ ~之后 = after~ ~之内 = in/among~

美国之音 = 美国的声音 = VOA(Voice of America)

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