Rectangle, ellipse and triangle

Suppose we have a flat drawing with rectangle, ellipse and triangle (see picture).

What prepositions can we use in these cases:

  1. The ellipse is […] the rectangle.
  2. The triangle is […] the rectangle.

Suggestions: "under", "below", "beneath", "underneath"; "behind"; others.

I understand meaning of these prepositions in 3D world. But in generic case of appearance of 2D painting on screen (say, at web-site), when I don't have any guess about user's devices and their disposition (e.g. he may use CRT monitor with vertical screen, or put his tablet horizontally on table, or lay on his back with keeping screen horizontally) — what is the best word choice? Or every word would be equally ambiguous without context knowledge?

So, question is not about prepositions themselves, but about their traditional usage for specifying disposition of 2D objects on screen — and their potential ambiguity for user with unknown screen orientation.

  • The relative issues always require a reference to convey the intents correctly.
    – Cardinal
    Jan 9, 2016 at 21:32
  • If the screen orientation is unknown, perhaps descriptions would be a better choice than a preposition. For instance, the red square COVERS the green circle and the tip of the blue triangle that is CLOSEST to the square, etc.
    – Msfolly
    Jan 9, 2016 at 22:13
  • Thanks everybody for their answers. Actually I didn't get direct answer on a question I wanted to know -- but that's not your fault, this was due to the way the question was stated, your answers were good. Maybe next time I'll state my question more clearly.
    – Sasha
    Jan 11, 2016 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


The following four positions are obvious

the green circle is behind the red square
the red square is in front of the green circle

the blue triangle is below the red square
the red square is above the blue triangle

If a specific frame of reference is given, i.e. the upper-left hand-corner, then

the blue triangle is beneath the red square
the blue triangle is below the red square
the blue triangle is underneath the red square
the blue triangle is lower than the red square

the red square is above the blue triangle
the red square is on top of the blue triangle
the red square is higher than the blue triangle

The green circle is still behind the red square
The red square is still on top of the green circle

  • So, will every user interpret "a figure below the red square" as "blue triangle", not as "green circle"?
    – Sasha
    Jan 9, 2016 at 21:40
  • And does "a figure under the red square" has exactly the same level of clarity as "a figure below the red square", or is it more ambiguous?
    – Sasha
    Jan 9, 2016 at 21:43
  • 1
    @Sasha That may not be as clear since both the green circle and the blue triangle can be considered to be under the red square depending on frame of reference. With a picture under is fine, without it can be ambiguous.
    – Peter
    Jan 10, 2016 at 1:04
  • 1
    @Sasha To answer your first comment, I think without the picture, most will choose the blue triangle as being below, with the picture some may find it ambiguous. Every person will choose the green circle to be behind the red square.
    – Peter
    Jan 10, 2016 at 2:27

They all mean the same thing

But if you take into consideration, dimensions of space, a 3D environment, then you may have different interpretations.

For instance.. Below the bed would mean at the bottom and not necessarily under the bed. Another example could be..

My dog sleeps below my bed.

This implies that the bed is simply taller than the dog. It doesn't explicitly mean that he is beneath/under/underneath the bed

I'm not sure why we have three words that literally mean the same exact thing, but there it is.

  • 1
    I would read "My dog sleeps below my bed" as meaning it is sleeping on the floor at the foot of my bed.
    – Msfolly
    Jan 10, 2016 at 14:18
  • That's what I was getting at.
    – dockeryZ
    Jan 10, 2016 at 20:12

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