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Dictionary-form verb + MAE NI (Lesson 46)

MAE NI (before) is an expression to emphasize what you do or did before doing something else. Verbs take the dictionary form, when they are followed by MAE NI (before). Even if a sentence as a whole is in the past tense, a verb takes the dictionary form before MAE NI, though this form indicates the present tense.

Then, how do you say, "Before I ate a meal, I washed my hands"? "A meal" is GOHAN. "To eat" is TABEMASU. Its dictionary form is TABERU. "Hands" is TE. "To wash" is ARAIMASU, and its past form is ARAIMASHITA. So, in all, you say GOHAN O TABERU MAE NI, TE O ARAIMASHITA. On the other hand, you use ATO DE (after) when you want to emphasize what you do or did, after doing something else. You use the TA-form of verbs before ATO DE. As you know, the TA-form is used for the past or the perfect. But here, even if a sentence as a whole is in the present tense, you use the TA-form before ATO DE.

Let’s say, "After I eat a meal, I wash dishes," in Japanese. The TA-form of "to eat" is TABETA. The "dishes" is SARA. Or in a polite way, we say OSARA. So, in all, it will be GOHAN O TABETA ATO DE, OSARA O ARAIMASU.
To summarize, verbs take the dictionary form before MAE NI (before), and the TA-form before ATO DE (after). Let’s memorize this as a set.
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