Where does this particular meaning of "after" come from? As in

I'm after this product

She was after the money

Is it a reduced form of a phrasal verb such as inquiring after? Chasing after?


After(preposition) meaning "in pursuit of; wanting, desiring" is probably an extension of the original meaning "behind in place or position; following behind." Its usage dates back to the late 18th century:

  • He is after her job (1775+)

From: The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.


There is no "special etymology" of this usage. It comes from one of the original meanings of after. Although a better definition of to be after is

To be trying to get or achieve (something)


After has always1 meant

  • In pursuit of, following with the intent to catch (a person or thing in motion); in the direction of. Also with elision of verb of motion.
  • In search of, in order to find or get (a person or thing at rest). Freq. with come, go, and send.

These definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Notice that the verb of motion has sometimes been elided or omitted. An example of this elision or omission is from 16272:

He must after them, and smite them, and plucke the spoyle [spoil] out of their teeth.

The OED also has an entry for

to be after

  • To be trying to get or achieve (something).
  • To be in pursuit of (a person), esp. with hostile intent; to be trying to get into the company of (a person).
  • To urge (a person) repeatedly to do something; to nag or harass (a person) about something.

The OED gives an early example of this from 16803:

The French and Dutch have been after our Wooll [wool] since they set up their Woollen Manufactures; why have they and their Agents been lurking on our Coasts..to filch it away for so many years?

Again, notice the 1680 date. There is not any special etymology of this use of after. It expresses one of the original meanings of the preposition.

Hope this is helpful!

1 Since the days of Old English, "the language of the Germanic inhabitants of England, dated from the time of their settlement in the 5th century to the end of the 11th century." Source: Old English Online, The University of Texas at Austin.

2 Ten sermons preached I. Ad clerum. 3. II. Ad magistratum. 3. III. Ad populum. 4. By Robert Saunderson Bachellor in Diuinitie, sometimes fellow of Lincolne Colledge in Oxford. online version. Cited in the OED.

3 Britannia languens (or, A discourse of trade shewing, that the present management of trade in England, is the true reason of the decay of our manufactures, and the late great fall of land-rents; and that the increase of trade, in the method it now stands in, must proportionably decay England. Wherein is particularly demonstrated, that the East-India Company, as now managed, has already near destroyed our trade in those parts, as well as that with Turky, and in short time must necessarily beggar the nation. Humbly offered to the consideration of this present Parliament), by William Peyt. online version.

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