General Writing and Grammar Help/Use of the word "prior"

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Question
My question is about the use of the word "prior" in the following example:

"She wore the same dress her mother wore for her wedding twenty years prior."

Is this grammatically correct? I've been seeing this a lot lately and it gives me pause every time.

Answer
Dear Caitlyn:

  My question is about the use of the word "prior" in the following example:

"She wore the same dress her mother wore for her wedding twenty years prior."

Is this grammatically correct? I've been seeing this a lot lately and it gives me pause every time.

*** You are "pausing" for good reason.  According to "The Hodges' Harbrace Handbook," one of the BEST grammar books ever compiled, using "prior" is an elliptical version of the actual phrase "prior to."  [The handbook notes that there is a cousin, "previous to."]

Here is the delightful comment Professor Hodges made about these phrases:  "Wordy and pretentious for the preposition BEFORE."

So, if you choose to be wordy and pretentious, use "prior" or "prior to."  If you want to use GOOD English, use "before."

Your question is very good.  I've not had it in my fourteen years of service at Allexperts.  Thank you for writing.

Ted Nesbitt

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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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