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What is the correct usage for the aforementioned? Is it:

It is difficult to see what truly lies underneath the mask.

or

It is difficult to see what truly lies behind the mask.

Additionally, I've also heard people use the term 'beneath the mask'.

Could anyone please tell me WHY the correct option should be used instead of the incorrect one?

  • Both are used, and an author may choose which version of the metaphor they consider better generates the image they desire, but as these Google Ngrams show, behind the mask is the idiomatic choice. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 20 '17 at 10:34
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The Ngram chart for "underneath the mask" (blue line" versus "behind the mask" (red line) versus "beneath the mask" (green line) for the period 1750–2008 looks like this:

The line graphs indicate that all three forms have appeared in published work for many decades, which strongly suggests that none of the three choices is idiomatically incorrect. Nevertheless, since the late 1800s, "behind the mask" has broken away from the other two in frequency of use and (as of 2008) was more than four times as common in Google Books database content as "beneath the mask" and many times more common than "underneath the mask." Given these results, the Cramps are totally vindicated.

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  • Great reply! I'll admit that I had absolutely no idea of the practical use of Google Ngrams. It becomes so clear when you see the graph. Thanks :) – Rahul Kulhalli Feb 21 '17 at 5:08
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Personally, I prefer "behind the mask." All three of the options you have mentioned are used, but in my mind, "behind the mask" is a fixed expression.

"Beneath the mask" sounds ok to me and is logical.

"Underneath the mask" makes me think that the person being unmasked is lying down.

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  • I think both are possible, I prefer "behind the mask" anyhow, since it's more familiar. – Phoenix214 Feb 20 '17 at 8:07
  • Hello, Takara. As @tchrist has said, We are looking for more substantial answers with documented references, not merely [statements that may possibly be no more than] personal opinion. Those are just comments, not answers. And in this case, OP should really have provided the Ngram data. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 20 '17 at 11:02

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