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When two words are synonyms, how do you choose which one to use?
Very rarely are two words completely interchangeable, but in those circumstances, your best bet is to consider the overall fluidity of your sentence. In some cases, one word might seem more natural than the other in context, while its counterpart might stick out.
Is there a real difference between the words prior and previous? Continue reading to find out.
When to Use Previous
What does previous mean? Previous is a synonym of earlier. It is an adjective. One might discuss something that happened the previous day, for instance, or the previous week or month or year.
Previous comes from the Latin word praevius, and its English form was first recorded in 1621.
Here are some more examples of previous in sentences:
- The all-rounder did not bowl properly with his previous team, but has fielded brilliantly.
- Many television shows, especially long-running, story-heavy dramas like open with a montage reminding viewers of the events of previous episodes.
Previously is the related adverb, and it is sometimes a synonym of before, meaning at an earlier time.
When to Use Prior
What does prior mean? The adjective prior is also a synonym of earlier.
- Prior to this posting, Mr. Hari was the chief of finances for a reputed technology firm.
According to most sources, prior and previous are interchangeable. Indeed, one could substitute prior for previous in the example sentences above without changing their meanings.
Prior, though, doesn’t have a related adverb. Some writers use the construction prior to as a synonym for before, but most language authorities scoff at its use.
Trick to Remember the Difference: Previous vs. Prior
This is one of the rare examples of two words that really are interchangeable. You could use both prior and previous as synonyms of earlier, where they become adjectives.
If one of your goals is to make your writing as accessible as possible to a majority of readers, previous might be a better bet since it is more common.
Since previous and frequently both contain the letter E, you can easily remember that previous shows up more frequently that prior in published English.
In reality, though, you should probably just choose whichever word fits best in the context of your sentence.
Is it previous or prior? Prior and previous are two interchangeable adjectives that mean earlier.
Previous is slightly more common, but either word will work in any context.
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