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In the following examples both variants work:

Vorhin lief mein Rechner noch einwandfrei, jetzt bleibt der Bildschirm schwarz.
Eben lief mein Rechner noch einwandfrei, jetzt bleibt der Bildschirm schwarz.

Is there a difference in the meaning of "eben" or "vorhin"? When do we prefer one over the other?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

In my feeling, vorhin might be a bit longer ago than eben. If something happened in the immediate past (a few seconds ago), then you can say eben but not vorhin to express this. Moreover, eben sounds a bit more colloquial than vorhin to me. A less colloquial word is gerade, which can also express the immediate past.

Another thing is that eben has a lot more meanings than vorhin:

Eben war der Flachbildschirm noch eben; dann hat mein Bruder mal eben gegengetreten – nicht eben nett.

(Note that both the first and the last instance of eben could be replaced with gerade.)

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+1 - nice "graphic" example :-) – tohuwawohu Sep 9 '11 at 11:01
Die 3 Ebenen des Wortes eben sind nett, aber einen Zeitunterschied auszumachen halte ich für Einbildung. colloquial accepted. – user unknown Sep 10 '11 at 2:10
@user: Keine Einbildung :-) eben kann die unmittelbare Vergangenheit ausdrücken (vor wenigen Sekunden); vorhin würde da nicht passen. (Übrigens hat eben noch mehr Bedeutungsebenen.) – Hendrik Vogt Sep 10 '11 at 7:06
@user: See also my updated answer. – Hendrik Vogt Sep 10 '11 at 9:08
Well, you repeat your assertion, but without argument. I say, you can use 'vorhin' for exact the same events in time, something which is just over. – user unknown Sep 10 '11 at 17:01

I think the two words are synonyms with the exact same meaning.

Maybe there is a situation I'd prefer "eben": when I want to emphasize that somehting suddenly, maybe unpredictedly has changed:

Eben noch funktionierte es.
Eben war er noch da.

Which contains an element of surprise. Also, not much time has passed since the situation has changed. The following sentences with "vorhin" aren't as strong:

Vorhin funktionierte es noch.
Vorhin war er noch da.

But it's very subtle in my opinion.

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