At the back of (at the rear of)
As the opposite of ‘at the front of‘, ‘at the back of’ and ‘at the rear of’ are used to talk about the part of something that is furthest from the front.
‘At the back of’ and ‘at the rear of’ are similar, but the latter is used more in formal or official language. For public buildings and aircraft, it’s more common to use ‘at the rear of’ (as in ‘exit’, ‘engine’), but for houses or other general entities (television, bed, etc.), ‘at the back of’ is usually used.
- There was another door at the back of the mansion.
- You should check the wire at the back of the fridge.
- The engine at the rear of the plane caught fire while they watched.
When something is behind another, it is at the back of it but not part of it. This implies that someone would stand behind you in a queue, not at your back because the person is not part of your body. However, if they are the last person in a queue, they are ‘at the back of’ the queue—simply because they are part of the queue.
- The green grass behind our house glistened at sunrise.
- He stood behind me and made faces at the protesters.
- The manager sat behind the desk, whistling happily.
Similarly, remember that we could say ‘behind her smile’ or ‘behind the glamour’ to indicate that a particular feeling, emotion or situation is different from what we see.
On the whole, always remember this: ‘at the back of’ (attached), ‘behind’ (detached).