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Sentence taken from the first volume of 「となりの信國さんは俺のことが好きな気がする」

この前にお弁当食べとるとは思えんパンの食べっぷり

Context: Two girls are sitting together during lunch break when one of them starts eating bread, then the other girl says the sentence above…

I was a bit puzzled about the meaning of 「この前」in this sentence when I found this explanation of the sentence: https://hinative.com/en-US/questions/19961591

Quote: ある人がお弁当を食べたあとで、パンを食べています。その人はお弁当を食べたあととは思えないほどパンをバクバク食べている。という意味だと思います!

This explanation made perfect sense to me yet got me wondering about 「この前(に)」again. Until now I always thought of「この前(に)」as referring to close past events, however here it seems to be referring to the immediate past, in the sense of “just before this moment”. When I searched for an explanation, I found a lot of articles discussing the similarities and differences of 「この前」and「この間」. In short, while these expressions are similar and sometimes interchangeable (meaning wise), the meaning of「この間」 doesn’t seem to fit here. 「この前に」seems to be closer to 「(つい)さっき」here, as in referring to the absolutely most recent past. However, I haven’t been able to find any articles discussing this possible similarity between 「この前に」and 「(つい)さっき」.

I also checked this question here How to differentiate between references in past to mean "last time" or "earlier" . However, it just doesn't quite adress what I am looking for.

All in all, I have three questions regarding the use and meaning of 「この前に」­:

  • First of all, is my understanding of 「この前に」in this sentence correct?
  • If yes, is this use of 「この前に」identifiable without context?
  • Is the way「この前に」 is used here common?
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  • The question is not really about how bendy it is. The difference is whether この前 is used as a set phrase or この refers to a specific event. The presence of に is the key to distinguishing the two. Even この間 can mean “during this time,” by the way.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 25 at 6:56
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この前 can mean the same thing as この間 ("the other day", "some days ago"), but in this sense, it rarely takes に. In your sentence, この前 means something more literal, "before this", "prior to this". (この前 can also mean "in front of this".)

  • この前見た映画
    the movie I watched the other day
  • この前に見た映画
    the movie I watched before this one
    (rare) the movie I watched the other day

In the context in question, この前に and ついさっき happen to work interchangeably, but in general, they are different. この前に in the sense of "prior to this" can refer to something that happened many years ago (e.g., いまはビルが建っていますが、この前に建っていたのは古い神社です).

Is the way「この前に」 is used here common?

この前に meaning "before this" is not uncommon at all, but perhaps その前に is much more common. And この前に tends to mean "in front of this" much more often.

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