The posterior is the behind, the postero-dorsal is behind the antero-dorsal.

But when we're talking about time, postmodern means "of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one".

So are there exceptions to this rule. Are there instances where the prefix "post" means the opposite of "behind", "after", or "afterward"?

I thought "post" meant about the same either if it's used about time or space, but it seems it's only in time, not space it has that "after" meaning. In space ante is the "after" and "post" the behind.

  • Why do you think that in "postmodern,", post- has a different connotation?
    – user66974
    May 20, 2016 at 17:33
  • 2
    Why do you consider behind and after to be opposites?
    – Lawrence
    May 20, 2016 at 17:45
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    Ante is before or preceding in time and post is after or following in time. Antero is the front/foreside (the thing that goes before) and postero is the back (the thing that follows).
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 20, 2016 at 18:43
  • @Lawrence "We've got fifty miles behind us, but after we've crossed that lake, we're there."
    – Gelb
    May 20, 2016 at 22:06
  • @Josh61 If we think of time and space as linear, and we're moving forwards in time, then the postmodern period comes "later than" the modern one. But when "post" is used about space, then it's something at the back. So to get to the "posterior" chapel, you go backwards.
    – Gelb
    May 20, 2016 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


Here are some definitions:

Post (5) preposition Subsequent to; after: American poetry post the 1950s hasn’t had the same impact - ODO

Before (1) preposition During the period of time preceding (a particular event or time): *she had to rest before dinner the day before yesterday - ODO

Before (2) preposition In front of: Matilda stood before her, panting - ODO

Consider the concept before.

Imagine travelling along Pall Mall, passing Suffolk St first, then Whitcomb St. If you were to pause between the two streets, which street is before you? You might say that Suffolk St came before, or that Whitcomb St lies before you.

  • Came before references history in this context, so we use before (1) to say that Suffolk St is before you. Note that the same words "came before" can also be used to reference position, leading to a similar example to that in the definition of before (2).

  • Lies before references position, so before (2) applies. In this context, Whitcomb St is before you.

Post also has seemingly contrasting senses, but the apparent conflict can be resolved more cleanly.

Imagine making a (sequential) list of whatever you encounter. Then items later in the list are said to be post the ones earlier in the list.

  • Consider your first example. Suppose you got a dolphin to swim past an inspection point, noting the fins encountered at the inspection point. The antero-dorsal appears before the postero-dorsal, so they are written in that order on the list. In this sense, the postero-dorsal is justifiably post.

  • Consider your second example. Now you're walking through history, encountering the modern era before the postmodern. Hence postmodern is written later in your list, justifying the label post.

These seemingly contradictory uses of post stem from the intrinsically opposite order you get, depending on what is considered to be moving: the viewer or the viewed. This also explains your delightful comment that "before ... and after would convey about the same meaning", when we would normally think of them as conveying opposite meanings.

  • 1
    Language is delightful. And thank you for a thorough answer, Lawrence. Your usage of "before" illustrates what I thought was funny with our language. When we're talking about time it's "something past", but space it's normally "something to come". I like your example with the dolphin fins. If we get to the posterior latest, because we approach it from the front (anterior), then the prefix post is congruent with regards to time and space. So if it's something is moving towards us, then it's right. Then the posterior comes last.
    – Gelb
    May 21, 2016 at 16:55

Post is always used to convey the idea of "behind, after" in any context it is applied:

  • a prefix, meaning “behind,” “after,” “later,” “subsequent to," “posterior to,” occurring originally in loanwords from Latin ( postscript),

  • but now used freely in the formation of compound words ( post-Elizabethan; postfix; postgraduate; postorbital).

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