Who is the man running ___ Lucy?

The options are the following:
A. after
B. behind
C. in front
D. across

I think the options A & B are right. But this is single-choice question . If they are both right, how to distinguish "run after" and "run behind"?

  • Isn't the 'running after' correct answer? Feb 25, 2014 at 10:03
  • 1
    I think they are both right. In this question, "running behind" means the man is actually running, and he is behind Lucy; "running after" can mean either "the man loves Lucy so he is chasing her" or just like "running behind". So maybe it depends on the context.
    – Stan
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:13
  • Since "running after" someone is highly idiomatic, and the question seems to be on a simple "which preposition do we use to indicate a position"-level, I would select B as the correct answer. A is definitely not wrong but it has a (number of) much more advanced meaning(s).
    – oerkelens
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:16
  • 1
    @user48070: You should provide the source for this "question". Lately we've been getting quite a few such "badly-composed" exercises. This one is particularly bad because all except to run in front Lucy are perfectly credible things to do in context. Also because in addition to the "literal" sense of the prepositions, to run after Lucy can be a "phrasal verb" usage meaning to woo her, and to run across her can be a phrasal verb meaning to meet her by chance. It's a very poor quality multiple choice question. Feb 25, 2014 at 12:55
  • 1
    Well, you must have got it from somewhere. If you have a choice, get your tests from somewhere else. Feb 26, 2014 at 3:13

1 Answer 1


Mea culpa!

This is very tricky but I think we should look this problem like this -

run after someone/somebody - try to get the attention of someone (opposite sex). See both the meanings on the page.

This example has a man and Luch (girl) so run after fits but then, if you look at other options, it gives hint of asking the position of the runner. So,

run behind someone/something - to travel along behind someone or something, running

The sentence has Lucy and thus it marks off run behind as an idiom which means being late.

  • 2
    That idiom is only a problem if Lucy is not mentioned. I run behind Lucy only means one thing. On the other hand, I run after Lucy is ambiguous. It can mean I am constantly busy cleaning up her mess, or actually, I am in love with her.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:18
  • @oerkelens Thanks for pointing out. It's indeed tricky!
    – Maulik V
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:32
  • @oerkelens: I'd say that sense is more woo, pursue romantically, rather than be in love with. As defined in OED: To endeavour to gain the companionship or society of, or bestow one's admiration and loyalty upon (a person); (in later use esp.) to seek the company of (a potential romantic or sexual partner). Feb 25, 2014 at 12:41
  • True, I lazily copied it from an earlier comment, but I wasn't completely happy with it either. Thank you for both pointing out my laziness and enhancing my description. :)
    – oerkelens
    Feb 25, 2014 at 13:11
  • 2
    @oerkelens: There's only really one (or maybe two) idiomatic usage of "run after" these days - mainly confined to plural/unidentified "subjects" anyway. "She's very pretty - all the boys are running after her" is about the only sort of context you'll see the "wooing" sense now. The "other" one (without the "romantic" connotation) occurs in things like "You won't lose weight by running after every fad diet", where "you" is usually "generic" (equivalent to "one"). They're not really even "idioms", imho - just fairly transparent figurative usages. Feb 26, 2014 at 3:30

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