Lagging Behind

By Maeve Maddox

A reader writes:

I keep seeing this: “lacked considerably behind” when what is meant is “lagged considerably behind.”

When I went looking, I also found many examples of lacking where the context calls for lagging. Here are a few:

Incorrect: Bad WPO ranking on most pages [are] lacking behind the top US healthcare sites
Correct: Bad WPO ranking on most pages [are] lagging behind the top US healthcare sites

Incorrect: Africa is clearly lacking behind [in foreign investment].
Correct: Africa is clearly lagging behind [in foreign investment].

Incorrect: Good research lacking behind fitness promises
Correct: Good research lagging behind fitness promises

The meaning of the verb lag in the idiom “to lag behind” is “to fail to keep pace with others.”

Usually, the behind that follows lagging is a preposition that takes an object:

One very controversial topic recently is how America is lagging far behind other nations in terms of quality of education.—Business Today.

Sometimes “lagging behind” is used as a phrasal verb:

U.S. lagging behind on gender equality.—CNN.

The verb to lack means “to be deficient in quantity or degree.” For example:

Customers with mental illness are lacking services due to decreased funding available to the local CMH.

When your intended meaning is “to fail to maintain the desired speed of progress,” “to slacken the desired pace from weakness or sloth,” “to hang back,” “to fall behind,” or “to remain in the rear,” the idiom you want is “to lag behind.”

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5 Responses to “Lagging Behind”

  • thebluebird11

    Ha, I never heard/saw that mistake. There are people who are lacking behind but I am surely not one of them LOLOL 😉

  • venqax

    Maybe Merriam Webster has it.
    LAG
    intransitive verb
    lagged lag·ging
    Definition of LAG
    verb
    1: lack
    2: to stay or fall behind.

    Or maybe it’s one of those “accents” that you have to accept

  • venqax

    Maybe Merriam Webster has it.

    LAG
    lagged lag·ging
    Definition of LAG
    intransitive verb
    1: lack
    2: to stay or fall behind.

    Or maybe it’s one of those “accents” that you have to accept

    LAG \ˈlag\ also \ˈlak\

  • David Knuttunen

    It occurs to me that “to lag” already implies “behind”, which is really added to the idiom only for emphasis. For instance, you could say, “America is lagging other nations in terms of quality of education,” and the meaning is not different than “lagging behind.” If you want to suggest the degree of lag, however, “lagging far behind” works well, although “much lagging” or some other construct could work, also.

  • Umer Baloch

    I agree with David–the word “lagging” usually does not need “behind” to explain such situations.

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