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The Oxford dictionary says

After: behind somebody when they have left; following somebody

He ran after her with the book.


But Learner Dictionary says

After: trying to catch or get (something or someone)

The dog ran after the ball. [=the dog ran to get the ball]


So, Does the sentence "She teetered after him in her high-heeled shoes." (from Oxford dictionary) imply "She just followed him" or "She tried to get him"?

2 Answers 2

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There are two separate terms here that look the same but are not.

There is the phrase to be after [somebody/thing] which is a combination of the verb to be and the preposition after. It has the meaning to try to reach [somebody/thing] or to pursue [somebody/thing]. Example: "She was after him to divulge the recipe for his famous cookies" or "They were after the Stanley Cup."

Then there is the preposition after simply meaning behind or later than. This can describe relativity (in time or space) in conjunction with any verb, including to be, but does not imply pursuit. Examples: "He left after her" or "She shut the door after him" or "They were in line after the man in the purple shoes."1

Your example "She teetered after him in her high-heeled shoes" could be either one depending on the context. Saying that she "teetered" means she walked unsteadily, but one can walk unsteadily behind someone without attempting to catch up to them just as one can walk unsteadily behind someone while attempting to catch up to them.


1This sentence actually sounds a little awkward to a native ear; a more natural sentence might be "They got in line after the man in the purple shoes" or "They were in line behind the man in the purple shoes" depending on if the emphasis is on when they entered the line or their position in the line. But the original example is not incorrect.

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  • I still don't think "after" in this sentence "She teetered after him in her high-heeled shoes" means "behind". I still think that she is trying to catch up with him to say something. Most dictionaries don't say "after" means "behind". Why can't they just say "She teetered behind him in her high-heeled shoes"?
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 7:54
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    From Oxford Dictionaries: 2. behind. "she went out, shutting the door after her" Given the lack of context, your sentence could mean either that she was trying to catch up or just that she was following more slowly because of the shoes. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 9:21
  • @KateBunting, that is another different meaning of "after", it could mean "do something after someone has left"
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 9:25
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    Oxford give as synonyms for this usage behind, following, in the rear of. The 'time' sense of 'after' was Definition 1. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 9:35
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    @Tom "teetered behind" could possibly mean swaying in place behind another person (the other person being moving or stationary)—I read "teetered after" to convey the sense of movement on her part. But without further context I don't know if she is trying to catch up to him or if she is simply not as far along the street.
    – randomhead
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 12:53
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That means just "followed him". Perhaps they were leaving a party and he was ahead of her to get the car.

You would need an entirely different sentence to say that she was "after him" to hire him for a job or to seduce him.

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  • That is very confusing because many native speakers insist that “after somebody” always implies “to try to catch/get a person” or “to follow someone in order to stop or speak to them”. It doesn't carry the meaning "just behind somebody"
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 1:38
  • I agree that's the most common meaning. In this sentence the "teetered" signals "just followed". If she were following to stop or speak to him you would have to say so. If you said "ran after him" you would not need the extra information. Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 2:03

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