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General Writing and Grammar Help/A few years ago, a few years back, a few years before

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Question
Dear Ted:

What are the differences among "a few years AGO," "a few years BACK" and "a few years BEFORE"?

When should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Again, many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

Answer
Dear Paolo:

What are the differences among "a few years AGO," "a few years BACK" and "a few years BEFORE"?

When should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

****  Paolo, I want to congratulate you for using the correct preposition "among."  Unfortunately, most people would choose "between," even though they are listing MORE than two choices.

Essentially all three have the same meaning.  The first two are almost always synonyms:

I traveled to England a few years ago.
I traveled to England a few years back.

"A few years ago" is used more often.  "A few years back" is used only regionally, so it is a kind of idiomatic expression.

*** A FEW YEARS BEFORE

Because of the use of "before," this one is different.  The word "before" requires additional information = before WHAT?

A few years before I got married and had children, I spent a lot of time traveling throughout Great Britain.

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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