Russian Language Blog

Before and After: Prepositions of Time in Russian Posted by on Feb 22, 2018 in language

We’ve looked at conjunctions that let you express temporal relationships in a sentence. Now let us look at some prepositions you can use to indicate when something happened.

four clocks in a park

Image via Pixabay

Previous events

До + genitive case

До is used before a noun or a pronoun to refer to the time before something else happens.

  • Рефера́т на́до сдать до конца́ семе́стра (The paper needs to be turned in before the end of the semester).

Перед + instrumental case

Перед literally means “in front of” and refers to something that needs to happen first before something else happens.

  • Пе́ред пое́здкой на юг мы купи́ли солнцезащи́тные очки́ (We bought sunglasses before our trip south).

In many cases, перед is similar in meaning to до. There are cases where you can only use до — usually when there’s a deadline and, if you don’t comply with it, it will be too late. For example:

  • Докуме́нты ну́жно пода́ть до пе́рвого ию́ля (You need to submit your documents before July 1).

In these cases, перед would be unusual.

Accusative case + тому назад

Тому назад is used to say “X units of time ago.”

  • Три́дцать лет тому́ наза́д бана́ны в Росси́и бы́ли ре́дкостью (Thirty years ago, bananas were rare in Russia).

You can also use it as simply назад, omitting тому, which is more common in everyday conversation.

calendar in an agenda

Image via Pixabay

Concurrent Events

Во время + genitive case

When one thing happens while another thing is happening, we can use во время (during). This structure can be used both for instantaneous and extended actions; see examples below.

  • Мы познако́мились во вре́мя учёбы в университе́те (We met while studying in college).
  • Во вре́мя ночно́го сна ко́жа наибо́лее акти́вно восстана́вливается (During nighttime sleep, your skin undergoes active restoration).
    [Ворожея. Исполнение желаний // «Даша», 2004]

На протяжении + genitive case

На протяжении is similar to во время but can only be used for extended actions, i.e. situations where two actions are unfolding alongside one another. It is similar to the English “throughout.”

  • На протяже́нии веко́в фабрикова́ли и подде́лывали не то́лько истори́ческие докуме́нты, но и географи́ческие ка́рты (Not only historical documents but also geographical maps have been fabricated and falsified throughout the centuries).
    [Крапленые карты географии // «Знание — сила», 2003]

Image via Pixabay

Subsequent Events

После + genitive case

После means after and refers to one action that happens after another.

  • По́сле конце́рта мы пошли́ в рестора́н (After the concert, we went to a restaurant).

Note that no comma is needed after time phrases, even if you would use one in English.

Через + accusative case

Через is followed by a time period to indicate how much later something happened. This can refer to the past, present, or future.

  • Я верну́сь че́рез не́сколько мину́т (I’ll be back in a few minutes).
  • Че́рез три го́да они́ собра́ли пе́рвый урожа́й (Three years later, they collected their first harvest).

Accusative case + спустя

Спустя is similar in use to тому назад, except спустя refers to “X units of time later.” Спустя can go before or after the noun it refers to.

  • Спустя́ четы́ре го́да Берли́нская стена́ ру́хнула (Four years later, the Berlin Wall had come down).
    [Александр Федоров. Лошадник (2002) // «Автопилот», 2002.02.15]
  • Год спустя́ Ни́ну Черка́сову уво́лили из теа́тра (A year later, Nina Cherkasova was fired from the theater).
    [Сергей Довлатов. Чемодан (1986)]
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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Nicolas Jansens:

    In the examples of time expressions given under the heading “Через + genitive case”, the assignment of genitive case is being done by the quantity expressions несколько and три, not by через, which assigns the accusative case; cf. через год.

  2. Joe Liro:

    Nicholas took care of через. But there are a couple others to fix. (тому) назад and спустя both assign the accusative case, not the nominative. In fact, the nominative case is never the complement of a preposition. Я тебе сказала минуту назад.

    Joe Liro
    Austin Community College

    • Maria:

      @Joe Liro Very good point. Luckily for us, masculine and neuter nouns coincide in the nominative and accusative cases, which makes it easier on the learners!