My mom wants to stop at a restaurant. But we had already passed it. So my dad says:

We're already a mile ahead of the restaurant.

Is the use of "ahead of the restaurant" natural?

| improve this question | | | | |

While not wrong, it's not natural.

Normally, it would be one of the following that would be said:

We're already a mile past the restaurant.
The restaurant is already a mile behind us.

Using ahead implies being in front of something, either temporally, spatially, or qualitatively.

So, you could say:

I pulled ahead of you in the race.
I will get to the restaurant ahead of you.
My education allowed me to get ahead in life.

In your sentence, the only meaning that makes sense is the first one, that of spatial location. If the restaurant is now behind you, then it also means that you must be ahead of it.

However, it's not normally used in this context. It would be common to say that the restaurant is just up ahead as you approach it, but once you've passed it—and if it's not actually a race where two people are in motion—you would refer to its physical location behind you, not to your physical location in front of it.

I can't point to a reason why this is the case, other than to say it's just what it is.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • Arguably, just might be a crucial word here. I can [just about ?!] imagine a context like I told you when we set off that we should phone the restaurant well before we get there, to make sure they have a selection of vegetarian dishes for me to choose from. But we're already just a mile ahead of the restaurant, and I still don't know if they'll actually have anything I can eat! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '19 at 15:32
  • @FumbleFingers To me, just a mile ahead would imply that you've already gone past it, so the context wouldn't make sense. Instead, I'd expect to hear we're only a mile away. Or are you saying you've sometimes heard you being ahead to express not there yet? (If so, that's new to me.) Even getting ahead of yourself means that you've gone too far . . .) – Jason Bassford Feb 6 '19 at 15:41
  • I think you're being a bit pedantic there. Would you still raise the same objections if my example had been But the restaurant is already just a mile ahead, and I still don't know... Come to that, do you have a problem with I can't believe fall semester is already just ahead - which is specifically given as an example in a book apparently primarily concerned with "Motion Encoding in Language and Space". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '19 at 16:43
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers You just changed your example, which might explain our confusion. In your first example you said we're already just a mile ahead of the restaurant. But in your latest example, you said the restaurant is already a mile ahead (of us, I assume). The specific wording aside, the order of the nouns makes a big difference to the semantics. So, I'm not sure what's actually being debated at this point... – Jason Bassford Feb 6 '19 at 16:49
  • 1
    @It'saboutEnglish: What Jason said. These comments are about a fine point regarding "limits of acceptability". For your purposes, you should just take away the headline message from this answer as regards your example usage: it's not natural. My apologies if my comments might have diluted that message. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '19 at 18:22

We're already a mile ahead of the restaurant.

implies the restaurant is also moving along the same path as you are. This is likely not the case. :)


We're already a mile past the restaurant.

You can say something like

We're a mile ahead of the Ice Cream Truck so we'll have to stop and wait for it.

| improve this answer | | | | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.