Check your past usage: Previous vs. Prior

Before deciding which of these two words to use, you’ll want to read this article. You may find that your earlier uses of this pair were correct!

Previous is an adjective that means “earlier,” as in A brilliant light appeared in the sky just as it had the previous night.

Prior also is an adjective that means “earlier,” as in The president’s proposal is much less problematic than his prior calls to action.

Previous and prior are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. There is a small but vital distinction before them, however: Previous has an adverb form, previously, that can mean “before,” such as The FBI had previously investigated the man now accused of terrorism. “Before” is similar but slightly different than “earlier” in meaning. Prior does not have an adverb form.

So, if you intend to mean “earlier” and use it as an adjective in sentence, you can go with either previous or prior (Previous is slightly more common.). If you mean “before,” go with previously.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.