fbpx Skip to Content

“In the wake of” — Meaning, Context & Examples

“In the wake of” — Meaning, Context & Examples

Sharing is caring!

Idioms are groups of words whose meaning is not deducible from the literal meanings of the individual words. 

Because the words in idioms cannot be interpreted literally, it can be difficult to understand what they mean at the best of times.

But they are even more difficult to understand when they contain words that have several different meanings in English. 

The word “wake,” for example, has three meanings. It can be a verb meaning “the act of coming out of a state of sleep.” 

It can also be a noun meaning “a vigil held beside the body of someone who has recently died.” 

Finally, it can also be a noun meaning a trail of disturbed water or air left by the passage of a ship or aircraft. This third definition is the meaning of the word “wake” used in the expression “in the wake of.”

So, what does it mean, then, to figuratively be in the trail of disturbed water left by a passing ship? 


What is the meaning of the expression “in the wake of”?

The idiom “to be in the wake of” has two slightly different meanings. The first is “following on from,” as in “the children ran past in the wake of the military procession.” The second is “as a consequence of,” as in “the train windows had to be kept open in the wake of the cholera outbreak.”


Origins of the expression “in the wake of”

There is often confusion about whether “in the wake of” necessarily implies a causal relationship between the thing itself and the thing in its wake. 

The answer is that it doesn’t have to, but it can. 

In the first meaning of the idiom, no causal relationship is implied between what comes first and what follows on from it.

The expression only means that something is moving in the same path or travelling close behind something, just as a wake follows closely behind a boat or plane. 

The second meaning of the expression does imply a causal effect between the thing and what comes after it.

Usually, the effect or effects it refers to are negative. 

In this case, the idiom gets its meaning from the fact that the ripples and waves created by a boat can negatively impact other objects. 

This sense of the word “wake” was first recorded in the 1540s. It likely came from the Middle Low German wake or the Old Norse vaka, meaning “hole in the ice.”

This meaning of wake likely derived from the fact that a ship would leave a track in the ice behind it.

The figurative expression “in the wake of,” was first recorded in 1806.


10 ways to use the expression “in the wake of” to mean “to follow on from.” 


  1. She left a trail of broken promises in her wake.


  1. The funeral guests’ cars followed in the wake of the hearse. 


  1. The backup dancers entered the stage in his wake. 


  1. A mark may be left in the wake of an old pimple, but it will not necessarily be a permanent scar. 


  1. Lupa fish follow in the wake of migrating tropical fish.  


  1. Bankers moved to Brooklyn in the wake of the lawyers and property tycoons who set up shop there in the 60s.


  1. The school group followed in the wake of the more experienced hikers.


  1. Her career followed in the wake of those of other prominent female physicists. 


  1. The heavier children followed in the wake of their nimbler peers. 


  1. The baby ducks swam down the river in their mother’s wake, trying at least not to lose sight of her. 


10 ways to use the expression “in the wake of” to mean “as a consequence of.”

In the wake of these recent allegations, we will conduct a thorough investigation.
In the wake of the fire, the Portmanns slept in their neighbors’ garage for not one but two weeks.
Do you remember what happened in the wake of the Brexit referendum?
In the wake of the couple’s argument, their relationship status remained uncertain.
In the wake of the political scandal, the politician was grateful to anyone who still wanted to work with him.
In the wake of their world cup final defeat, the Italian team’s morale deteriorated.
In the wake of her accident, Jenny decided it was better to err on the side of caution when driving.
In the wake of the recent bombings, the security measures at sporting events were heightened.
In the wake of her arrest for driving under the influence, the other parents at the school began to question Marina’s fitness to take care of her children.
In the wake of his injury, Leonard succumbed to a depressive episode.


5 alternative ways to say, “in the wake of,” to mean “to follow on from.” 


  1. Behind

The children walked behind their parents.


  1. Followed

The baby chicks followed the goats around the barnyard.


  1. After

Brace yourself for the aftershocks that will come after the earthquake.


  1. Subsequent to

The party that entered the room subsequent to the Royal family, stared at the Queen in disbelief.


  1. In the rear of 

The baton twirlers were in the rear of the parade. 


5 alternative ways to say, “in the wake of” to mean “as a consequence of.”


  1. On account of 

On account of her father’s cancer diagnosis, Joanna felt compelled to quit her job to care for him full time.


  1. In the aftermath of 

In the aftermath of their divorce, the couple halted all communication. 


  1. On the heels of 

On the heels of their failed merger, the two companies both filed for bankruptcy. 


  1. Because of 

Because of the drought, the local municipality prohibited homeowners from watering their lawns. 


  1. As a result of 

As a result of their disagreement, the two former best friends decided to give each other some space.