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English is not my native tongue. I am helping another non-native to translate as precisely as possible a sentence that comes from an astrological reading:

indicating that the question is asked against an awareness that the mother has recently been afflicted by illness

I'd interpret against in this case to mean in presence of; that is, the person asking is aware of the illness and is probably influenced by this knowledge in posing his/her questions to the astrologer.

Is this correct? When would you use ask against, and what precisely is it used to communicate?

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"ask against" is not a quite set phrase or idiom. Against here seems to be used in the sense of in the face of, i.e., "the question is asked, knowing very well that the mother has recently been afflicted by illness" (Against an awareness: in spite of knowing that) – Kris Jan 18 '13 at 12:49
Is the question being asked because we are aware of the recent illness or in spite of our awareness? – Jim Jan 18 '13 at 16:50
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Against here is used in the sense of before the background of. This can refer to physical objects or metaphorically otherwise.

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"before the background of"? You mean "against the background of" maybe. – Kris Jan 18 '13 at 13:30

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