Q. Is there a difference between на час раньше and часом раньше?

Q. Is there a difference between на час раньше and часом раньше?

A. Absolutely! Let us assume that there is a set time t0 of an event, be it a concert, a lecture, a dinner etc. The time t0-1 = на час раньше.

Вдобавок я еще перепутал часы и пришел на заседание коллегии на час раньше ― не к десяти, а к девяти. [С. Н. Есин. Дневник (2006)] — In addition, I confused the time and came to the collegiate meeting an hour earlier, not at ten but at nine o’clock.

Закрыла Надя свой книжный киоск на час раньше положенного и пошла к своей подружке Вале, торопясь застать ее в садике, пока та не раздала всю детвору родителям. [Юрий Кашкин. Валюха-горюха // «Ковчег», 2013] — Nadya closed her book kiosk an hour earlier than she was supposed to and went to her girlfriend Valya’s, hurrying to find her in the kindergarten before she distributed all the kids to their parents.

Another option is comparison of two events:

Он сличил две телеграммы ― утреннюю и эту, ― вторая отправлена на час раньше первой. [И. Грекова. На испытаниях (1967)] — He compared two telegrams, the morning one and this one; the second one was sent an hour earlier than the first.

In all of these cases, time is viewed in its traditional, common way, flowing from past to future, and the moment of speech is some other third point in time.

On the other hand, if the participant whose point of view the speaker represents is at the time t0 which is the time of event1 and is looking back, then the previous event2 is described as taking place часом раньше.

Она показала мне письмо от мужа, которое часом раньше ей передали два молодых американца. [Олег Трояновский. Через годы и расстояния (1997)] — She showed me the letter from her husband, which two young Americans had given her an hour earlier.

This looking back in time could be real, as in the case of the letter, or unreal — irrealis, what would have been, had the event taken place an hour earlier:

Ах, если бы мы приехали часом раньше! [В. П. Катаев. Черный хлеб (1935)] — If only we would have come an hour earlier!

Часом раньше он застал бы меня на середине озера… [И. Л. Солоневич. Россия в концлагере (1935)] — An hour earlier he would have found me in the middle of the lake.

I must admit that there were a couple of examples with часом раньше where I would have expected на час раньше. Часом раньше is more elegant, and the author may have opted for the flourish, for example:

В нетерпении они приехали на место встречи чуть ли не часом раньше. [Владимир Маканин. Буква «А» (1999)] — In their impatience they came to the meeting place almost an hour earlier.

This statement is not exactly incorrect but lacks precision, since there is no backward perspective as is customary for this phrase.

Needless to say, it can be раньше or позже, it can be минутой, днём, неделей, месяцем, десятилетием, веком (and even better столетием). Some less common words can be used as well: декадой, кварталом, семестром and others. Also a numeral can be added:

Генерал Пратс был убит в Буэнос-Айресе двумя годами ранее. [Олег Поляковский. Неподсуден // «Вокруг света», 2003.09.15] — General Prats was killed in Buenos-Aires two years earlier.

Повезло, что обрушилась на неё эпоха в 1927 году, а не десятью годами позже. [Лев Аннинский. Безвестные лодочки в реке времён // «Наука и жизнь», 2008] — She got lucky that the events crushed her in 1927 and not ten years later.

And in general, this construction can be used not only with time expressions: курсом старше, классом младше, двумя сантиметрами короче, этажом выше / ниже and others.

Easy blunder corner.

ПОКА and the problems it causes.

Part II. Until and Before. (Part I was in the previous issue.)

Offord’s (Using Russian (Cambridge University, 1996), and Offord & Goglitsyna’s, second edition (Cambridge University, 2005) — the two different editions are marked by Roman numerals I and II) — second mistake is a bit more complicated:

(2) [*] Посмотрим телевизор, пока она не придет. (Offord I-376, II-422)

I should immediately give possible correct phrases to replace (2):

(Давай/давайте) Посмотримp телевизор, пока ее нет. — Let’s watch TV while she is not here.

Я будуi смотреть телевизор, пока она не пришлаp. — I will watch TV while she hasn’t come.

The idea behind (2), as far as I understand, is to kill time before she comes, and watching TV satisfies this plan. However, the implication of the “пока N0 не + V0–future-perfective” is totally different. Grammatically, there are two possibilities for the predicate in non-пока clauses:

a) не + Vfut.perf / Vpres.imperf, which means that the agent of this clause will not perform V until the agent N0 of the пока-clause performs V0:

За стол не садятся, пока не придёт Луиза ― душа общества. [В. В. Лопатин. Диалоги о цвете в живописи // «Волга», 2015] — They won’t sit down to dinner until Louisa comes, the heart and soul of the society.

The arrival of Louisa will trigger everyone taking their seats at the table.

Колюня поклялся: не пойду к ней до тех пор, пока сама не придёт и не позовёт. [Алексей Варламов. Купавна // «Новый Мир», 2000] — Kolya swore: I won’t go to her until she comes herself and calls me.

b) Vimperf, which means that V will be interrupted when the agent N0 of the пока-clause performs V0:
― Будешь сидеть под замком, пока мать не придёт. [Владислав Крапивин. Трое с площади Карронад (1979)] — You will stay under lock and key until mother comes.

Я решил стоять, пока она не придет. [Георгий Владимов. Три минуты молчания (1969)] — I decided to stand until she comes.

Turning V0 from future into the past (пока не пришла) gives us two options:

c) past tense of situations (a) and (b):

Они не сели за стол, пока не пришла Луиза. — They didn’t sit down at the table until Louisa came.

Он стоял / сидел под замком, пока мать не пришла. — He stood / sat under lock and key until his mother came.

Both of these options could be transformed into repetitive situations:

Они не садились за стол, пока не приходила Луиза. — They wouldn’t sit down at the dinner table until Louisa came.

Он стоял / сидел под замком, пока не приходила мать. — He would stand /sit under lock and key until his mother came.

d) a totally different meaning of пока ‘before’; in this case the arrival of N0 is not just the interrupter of the non-пока V, but V can take place only when N0 is absent or in other words, there is an attempt of not having a collision between the conflicting situations. One can think of the two clauses as a wife and a mistress who should not meet even though they know of each other.

— … Но пара дней все-таки есть. Дай-ка сигарету. В ящике стола. Быстрее, пока она [смерть] не пришла.

Бланк достал из стола сигарету, Татарников закурил и сказал… [М. К. Кантор. В ту сторону (2009)] — “But I still have a couple of days. Give me a cigarette. In the desk drawer. Quick, before it [death] comes.

Blank got a cigarette from the desk, Tatarnikov lit the cigarette and said, …

Потом его били здесь, в тюрьме, …, надеясь сразу же, пока он не пришел в себя, сломить его волю. [А. А. Фадеев. Молодая гвардия (1943-1951)] — Later they beat him here in the prison… hoping to immediately break his will before he came to.

The use of the past tense shows that something strange is going on, and indeed, in French we would find subjunctive in these phrases.

The other question might be: how do we know if it’s an “until” пока or a “before” пока? The until-пока stops the action in the other clause, while in the case of the before-пока, the action stops by itself or by the agent preemptively:

А Нетак, цепляя всех своими заусенцами, начал упрямо продираться вперед, пока не ударился лбом о фанерную стойку. [Ефим Чеповецкий. Непоседа, Мякиш и Нетак (1989)] — And Netak [Wrongway] began to stubbornly make his way forward through catching everyone with his hangnails, until he hit his forehead on the plywood stand.

Был, якобы известным богословом, пока не ударился в ересь. [Н. С. Работнов. Дневник (1983)] — He was supposedly a famous theologian before he became engrossed in heresy.

In the first case, hitting his forehead was unexpected for Netak and stopped his motion forward, while in the second case, he stopped being a theologian and became a heretic which we can assess in retrospect.

(To be continued)