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4 Comments

  • Interesting observations, Gill! I think ‘ahead of’ succeeds in headlines because of its brevity. ‘Amid’ is another preposition that gets huge ink because it’s so much more succinct than, say ‘against a backdrop of’. I wonder too if the embedded ‘ahead of’ trend is more popular in UK newspapers. The New York Times (and by copycatism, other US papers) love to put the prep phrase at the beginning of a headine: “After Colorado wildfire, homeowners return to ‘unreal’ scenes” Here’s one from NPR: “Ahead Of Alaska Drilling, Shell Practices Cleaning Up‎.”

  • I really enjoy your posts, Gill – always lots of food for thought. This part, particularly, gets an enthusiastic nod from me:

    “The point is surely that far from being careless or ‘wrong’, ahead of simply prioritizes one of the many prepositional meanings of before in a quite precise, unambiguous way. (…) This is hardly cause for concern.”

    I wonder whether there’s a tendency to shy away from frequent and polysemous words out of some fear of ambiguity – a case of lacking faith in words to disambiguate themselves by the company they keep.

    The example of ‘in front of’ in your final paragraph attracted my attention as rather foreign-sounding, unlike ‘ahead of’ which has always sounded just fine to me. It turns out to be a quote from Olivier Jakob, a consultant from a Swiss firm and, I’m sure, not a native speaker of English. I doubt his use of ‘in front of’ will catch on, but you just never know!

  • Thanks for these. Orin, your comment about ‘amid’ made me think of ‘in the wake of’ (becoming a fully-fledged preposition?) and ‘in the run-up to’. Maybe another factor is that short words – even three of four of them working as a phrasal preposition – fit easily into the narrow columns of newspapers – you don’t need hyphens and you don’t produce one-word columns.

    Also, about putting the ‘ahead of’ part first, there was one sequence that stuck out as I trawled through the lines in ukWaC: “Speaking ahead of [event], so-and-so said…”

    Diane, you’re right of course, about ‘in front of’ – it does sound unusual. But I’m sure I’ve heard it before somewhere. I do think there’s an increasing tendency for ‘spatial’ prepositions to be used to talk about time relations.