Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between After and Afterward

What is the difference between after and afterward? In the dictionary, the words are synonyms of each other. However, the difference lies in the grammar, and they cannot always be interchangeable. The reason for that lies in the fact that ‘After’ has a much broader meaning and grammatical usage than ‘afterward’.

‘After’ is generally used by English speakers and writers as a preposition meaning behind in place or position or later in time than something. For example: We are all going out to eat after the movie. In this example, ‘after’ shows when the speaker intends to go out to eat. However, ‘after’ can also be used as an adverb, conjunction, adjective, verbal auxiliary or noun. It is also used commonly in phrasal verbs, such as ‘look after’, ‘go after’ or ‘take after’. When ‘after’ is used in the same sense as ‘afterward’, it is being used as an adverb. For example: We are all going out to eat afterward.

‘Afterward’ is only ever used as an adverb. It likewise means at a later time or after something has happened. Often, native speakers, especially in British English, add an ‘s’ to ‘afterward’, so it must be noted that this is a variant on ‘afterward’. While there is no grammatical difference between ‘afterward’ and ‘afterwards’, it should be kept in mind that some speakers, especially in North America, favor ‘afterward’. However, the meaning is the same. For example: We are all going out to eat afterwards. ‘Later’ is a similar adverb, and used in the same manner. For example: We are all going out to eat later. Although they are technically synonyms, ‘Afterward’ does imply a slightly more definite time period than ‘later’, such as directly after an event, not just some point later in the day.

The question of when to use ‘after’ or ‘afterward’ is often a matter of stylistic choice, since the words are synonyms of each other and can both be used correctly as adverbs. It should be noted though that ‘afterward’ is used more frequently when it ends a sentence, because it sounds better, rather than the adverb form of ‘after’. The reason for this is that ‘after’ as an adverb is a less common usage, and it makes a sentence sound incomplete, as if ‘after’ was being used as a preposition. For example: ‘We are all going out to eat afterward.’ is a more natural and typical way for a native speaker to word the sentence, than ‘We are all going out to eat after.’, although both are considered correct.

So while there is technically no difference between ‘after’ as an adverb and ‘afterward’, generally most native speakers prefer ‘afterward’ or ‘afterwards’. This sounds more complete and provides the listener or reader with the idea that an adverb is being used, especially when it ends the sentence.

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