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The OED has the preposition following from 1947. I've found this :

  • Following the order observed in the report, the first branch of study noticed is Engineering, in its two branches, military and civil. 1826

I don't see much in between though. Are there other examples of this preposition before 1900?

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It’s at least debatable whether following in the 1826 example is a preposition. The OED’s 1947 citation is:

The prologue was written by the company following an incident witnessed by them during anti-Jewish demonstrations following the hanging of two British soldiers in Palestine.

In that example, following can be replaced by at least one of the three terms provided in the OED’s definition: as a sequel to, in succession to and after. Can we, equally, instead of 'Following the order observed in the report', say 'As a sequel to / in succession to / after the order observed in the report'? Possibly, but that may not give the meaning intended in the original. What the writer probably meant was 'Following the order observed in the report, the first branch of study we notice is Engineering . . .' If so, the way it has come out has following as the -ing form of the verb follow. As such it is a dangling participle, wrongly hooked up to the first branch of study.

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Yes, the distinction between a preposition and a dangling participle is a fine one. For me this example doesn't dangle, but your mileage will vary. The question, though, remains: Are there other examples of this preposition before 1900? – Brett Reynolds Jan 5 '12 at 1:06

Answering your question, I can say that in your example it's not a preposition but a participle. (As Barrie England noticed, it's a dangling participle, which is a grammatical solecism: but the answer remains the same.)

EDIT: It's hardly ever clear when a word, commonly used as a participle, is extended to the point of becoming a preposition; if the OED believes following as a preposition dates only from c1947, I would be loth to disagree. My belief is strengthened by the fact that your apparent counterexample is in fact not a preposition at all. (Apologies if the brevity of my answer failed to convey the meaning.)

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I agree. I've been thinking on similar lines, as you will see from my own answer. – Barrie England Jan 4 '12 at 16:37
I understand and appreciate the comment, but I don't think it answers the question. – Brett Reynolds Jan 5 '12 at 1:07

It's not clear to me whether that sentence uses follow to mean obey, come after (in time or space), go after or observe.

Following is used many times in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667)

  • "not following thee, I had remained in ignorance"
  • "For death, the following day, in bloody fight ..."
  • "Over the vexed abyss, following the track Of Satan"
  • "His bounty, following our delightful task" (this one seems closest to your quote)

If you were looking for a particular meaning of "following", please update the question to be more explicit about that.

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Thank you. I agree the sentence is ambiguous. Nevertheless, it's not a particular meaning of following that I'm after, but rather early examples of the preposition following rather than the participle following. – Brett Reynolds Jan 5 '12 at 1:09
I first read "Following our delightful task..." as a preposition, although I can see it can be read otherwise. – slim Jan 5 '12 at 11:26

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