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New York Times

But in an indication of the hard road ahead for Democrats, the Internal Revenue Service issued guidance on Wednesday limiting the prepayment option.

I have already been familiar with “ahead of” which means: in front of something.

But here in this context, it is confusing me.

Does it mean the hard road was purposely, and specifically waiting only for the Democrats?

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    Ahead of acts like a two-word preposition, but the words ahead and for in your example do not. Here, the word ahead modifies the noun road (which road? the road ahead), and the for goes with Democrats (for whom will the road be hard? for Democrats). – Canadian Yankee Jan 19 '18 at 13:49
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Expanding on my comment:

Don't think of ahead for as a compound preposition like ahead of. Instead, consider the phrase "the road ahead", which is a very common English idiom meaning "the future," or more specifically, "the strategy of trying to succeed or survive in the future." There are a whole set of English idioms built around the metaphor of driving a car as being like controlling your strategy for the future. In fact, many of them are probably even older than the automobile itself and originally used the metaphor of walking or riding a horse down the road.

In your example, the road ahead is hard (that is, difficult) for Democrats to navigate with success. It's not necessarily the case that anyone planned for this to be the case, it's just a statement that in the near future, Democrats will find it difficult to achieve success, or even just to survive without metaphorical injury from a metaphorical car crash.

  • +1. It's just my personal opinion, but I think calling ahead of a two-word preposition creates as many problems as it solves. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 19 '18 at 20:56
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo - perhaps you're right. I'm not sure of the formal grammar, but I'm guessing that when you have "ahead of", the "of..." forms an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies "ahead". That's different from the OP's example, where the "for Democrats" is an adjectival prepositional phrase modifying "road". – Canadian Yankee Jan 20 '18 at 1:47
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The word ahead can be followed by prepositional phrases which contribute to its meaning in context.

Ahead is a locative term but it can be used figuratively in a temporal sense.

What is that on the road ahead of us?

Loose paraphrase: I cannot identify what that is on the road in front of us. Can you make out what it is?

What lies ahead for you?

Loose paraphrase: tell me about your future plans or expectations.

Spatial and temporal often coincide:

He entered the room ahead of me.

Loose paraphrase: We two entered the room, but not side by side. He went in first. He was in front of me as we entered the room.

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