mike   Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:44 am GMT
I got a bit confused now. If for example you have this name: David letterman. David is the first name, Letterman is the surname. Then which is correct to say:

1- Surname is behind the first name or
2- first name is behind the surname

I think # 1 is the correct one…a bit confusing!
furrykef   Tue Aug 07, 2007 12:25 pm GMT
"Behind" is definitely not the best choice of words. As a native speaker of English, I have seen teachers (also native) use the word "behind" in this context in the opposite manner that I expected. I can't remember which way I expected it, though. It's basically meaningless to me now.

What I would say is that the first name comes before the surname.

- Kef
mike   Tue Aug 07, 2007 3:06 pm GMT
maybe it's like when you say in a race: "runner #10 came behind runner #11" which means #10 came second after #11

same sence with "David Letterman". the surname (letterman) is behind the first name (david), i.e, the surname is "scond after" the first name.

could it be that way??
furrykef   Tue Aug 07, 2007 5:29 pm GMT
You'll probably get different answers from different people. Now that I think about it, my intuitive understanding of "behind" is that the word comes before the other word. I can't remember if my schoolteachers used it the opposite way, though (they only used the word "behind" when referring to sentence structure a few times).

When googling it to try to find examples, I see the word being used either way. It seems that the meaning of "behind" meaning "after" is more common, although it's hard to tell just from a couple of pages of results.

I think the reason for the discrepancy that people look at sentence structure with a different point of view. For instance, in a sentence such as "The boy hit the ball", if you imagine a man standing on top of the first "the" -- the start of the sentence -- from his point of view, the word "ball" is behind the word "hit". Now imagine him running toward the end of the sentence, on top of each word as it's being said. When he lands on the word "ball", then the word "hit" is behind him, so now "hit" is behind "ball". So the definition of "behind" depends on whether the man takes off running or not: if he stays still, then "behind" means "after", and if he runs, it means "before".

What's funny is that this confusion doesn't happen with "in front of", even though logically it's the opposite of "behind". If we think about the running man, it makes sense: while the man is standing, the word "hit" is in front of the word "ball". When he runs and lands on top of the word "hit", he is still in front of the word "ball".

So it's OK to speak of something being "in front of" a word, but I would avoid saying "behind" a word.

- Kef