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I'm not sure what is the difference, if any, between the word в прошлом and раньше. Both seem to mean 'in the past' or 'before'.

For example:

Главный переводчик много работал журналистом в прошлом.

Is it safe to replace it with раньше or is there any subtle nuance between the two?

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  • "In the past" and "earlier"
    – shabunc
    Oct 31 '21 at 15:26
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Like you said, “в прошлом” means “in the past”, and “раньше” means “before” (the latter can also mean “earlier”, for example, “Надо ложиться спать раньше.”)

It would be safe to replace “в прошлом” with “раньше” in your sentence as it would be clear that you mean “before”, which is synonymous to “в прошлом”.

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  • So is it to assume it is a synonym in any situation?
    – Blaszard
    Oct 30 '21 at 13:51
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    @Blaszard No, just like "in the past" cannot be a synonym to "before" in any situation.
    – mustaccio
    Oct 30 '21 at 17:49
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Раньше comes from "ранний" which means "early", i.e. "раньше" is basically a superlative form.

In other words "раньше" means "recently" or "earlier", while "в прошлом" heavily implies in the [not so recent] past.

Главный переводчик много работал журналистом в прошлом.

"He worked as a journalist a lot in the past", i.e. he's worked many professions since then or he hasn't worked at all for a long time.

Главный переводчик много работал журналистом раньше.

"He's worked a lot as a journalist recently/earlier", i.e. it was his most recent job and now he works as a plumber.

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"в прошлом" has an additional meaning of something that happened before a serious change in life/behavior of a person, something that is long forgotten or something that should no longer be brought up in conversations. Generally, there would be some context like "in the previous life he was a journalist himself, but after winning a lottery he will not even say a word to one".

So if you need to highlight that the fact that person was journalist but it is now totally forgotten/no longer talked about - "в прошлом" is a better choice.

Otherwise, both "раньше" and "в прошлом" would work, with preference for "раньше" if that job was right before the current one ("в прошлом" refer to a bit more distant past).

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