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I find the following phrasing in software I receive from German authors. There will often be an installation instruction to place a line into a file in a certain location. For example:

Where there is a list of programs like this:


The instruction is:

"Place MyProgram behind ProgramB"

I find that 'behind' is ambiguous. Should I treat it as "after/below ProgramB" or "before/above ProgramB"?

I have found this phrasing in texts from numerous native-German speakers when they write instructions in their usually perfect English, so I conclude there is some extra meaning in the German words they have in their head when they translate to "behind".

Danke schön.


Thanks for you inputs. I am a native English speaker who has studied some German in the distant past.

Digging into the etymology of 'behind' shows its shared root with 'hinter' through the Old English 'hinder'. This perhaps explains the preference to use it, with the nuances 'hinter' has in German that are uncommon in English.

'Behind' is typical used when the context has meanings of depth, and as such becomes ambiguous when used in a flat list. Checking in Merriam-Webster the preposition usage of "following in order" with the context "marched behind the band" is certainly closest. This does not feel to be the common usage in abstract contexts, but I have not researched this.

In English, if the end result is intended as:


Then the native phrasing would almost certainly be:

"Place MyProgram after ProgramB"


"Place MyProgram before ProgramC"

'After'/'before' contain meanings of ordering which are unambiguous (to my ears, at least).

@Haunt_House's answer shows the ambiguity beautifully - 'behind' could easily mean this if you did not know the context that each program must be on its own line.

@Carsten states the answer clearly that, in translation, 'behind' is sometimes used where 'after' is preferable.

@Takkat - I do not know the original word, as noted this is a common phraseology I find in software written by German authors, which I'm afraid is commonly provided only with English documentation.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by c.p., user unknown, Vogel612, Bertram Nudelbach, teylyn Aug 15 '13 at 11:09

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I'd interpret it as after (German hinter), in reading order, i.e. the intended result is A B My C. Could you explain the reasoning that leads to before/above? – chirlu Aug 10 '13 at 16:44
why would you understand "behind" as "before"? Is there something I am missing about the connotation of the English "behind"? – Emanuel Aug 10 '13 at 20:56
As a native German speaker I was perplexed how it could possibly mean before as well, but if you think about it, "behind" is relative and depends upon from where you look ( YOU-> A B or A B <-YOU). In this case, when I look at the screen from below or from above, ie the angle between the line going from "Prog B" to your eyes and the line going from "Prog A" to "Prog C" (downwards) being less or more than 90゜respectively, "behind" becomes "before" or "after" respectively. I agree with answer below, they definitely mean "after", it's interesting how the English words differs from the German one – blutorange Aug 11 '13 at 4:46
@blutorange: Texte schaut man üblicherweise frontal an, ist diesen also gegenüber und sieht von subtilen Winkelverhältnissen ab, die, wie Du selbst bemerkst, nicht vorhersehbar sind. Wie immer der Winkel ist liest man in unserer Kultur von oben nach unten und damit ist 'behind' determiniert. – user unknown Aug 11 '13 at 14:45
Das Problem existiert schon im deutschen Original: Wie user unknown richtig festgestellt hat, befindet man sich beim Betrachten eines Textes nicht im Text, sondern blickt annähernd im rechten Winkel auf die Text-Fläche. Wenn »My« also hinter/behind »B« stehen müsste, müsste es hinter der Text-Ebene eine zweite Ebene geben. Dort wäre »My« zu platzieren, und zwar so, dass es von »B« überdeckt wird. Das ist im angesprochenen Kontext aber ganz offensichtlich unsinnig, daher sind deutsch »hinter« und engl. »behind« eine schlechte Wahl. Besser wären »nach« bzw. »after«. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 12 '13 at 4:40
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I will say the same as everyone else, but with more conviction: They mean “after”. You guessed correctly that the German „hinter“ means “behind” but is also used where in English “after” is preferable. Thanks for pointing out this difference, it is an easy mistake to make.

„Im Alphabet kommt D hinter C.“

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Darf mann auch "Im Alphabet kommt D nach C." sagen? – Johannes Aug 12 '13 at 20:18
@Johannes Ja, das geht auch. – rimrul Aug 18 '13 at 14:24

Well, it's really not the best phrasing. If I had to choose, I'd say that the list starts with ProgramA, so 'behind' ProgramB means:

after ProgramB, between ProgramB and ProgramC.

Or it might ( a little bit more literally ) mean

ProgramB MyProgram

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