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Before' and 'Ago
Date 20/07/2009 20:46  Author detail  Hits 1003  Language Global
'Before' and 'Ago'

I came across the following sentence in a writer’s movie synopsis:

[a man] passes away and bequeaths his shack on the island to a woman, a young girl that he met many years ago when he was in a prisoner of war hospital.

The word that jars is ago where before is called for.

before - at some unknown time before now.

ago - at a certain time before, counting back from the present
Another way of writing the above sentence would be to make use of a perfect tense:

[a man] passes away and bequeaths his shack on the island to a woman, a young girl that he had met many years before when he was in a prisoner of war hospital.

Even if the lapse of time had been specified, the sentence would still call for before:

[a man] passes away and bequeaths his shack on the island to a woman, a young girl that he met twenty years before, when he was in a prisoner of war hospital.

Ago is for counting back from the present. The man is dead in the present described in the synopsis. Therefore before, not ago, is called for.

For variation, you can use earlier or previously to indicate a time before a time already in the past.

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