Afterward or afterwards?

When it comes to afterward vs. afterwards, both spellings are correct. Americans use “afterward” for formal writing, but “afterwards” is the standard spelling outside of the United States.

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What is the difference between afterward or afterwards?

The words afterward and afterwards have the same definition, and we use them as adverbs to modify other adjectives, verbs, phrases, or adverbs in a sentence. The main difference between the two words is that “afterwards” is standard English for the United Kingdom, while “afterward” is more common for the United States. 

As turns out, many English adverbs ending with -ward or -wards (a directional suffix) look different for American and British English. Outside of afterward or afterwards, this is true for terms like: 

  • Backward vs. backwards
  • Upward vs. upwards
  • Toward vs. towards
  • Homeward vs. homewards
  • Downward vs. downwards

Online grammar resources often assume that all adverbs ending with “-wards” is the standard spelling for the United Kingdom, while words ending with -ward (no letter s) is more typical of “North American” English.

While this is true for words like “toward,” “backward,” “upward,” or “downward,” this rule doesn’t apply for terms like “homeward” or “forward.” For example, the spelling of “homeward” is actually a British English preference, while American English includes the letter s. Additionally, the words forward and forwards have different definitions altogether. 

To summarize: American English speakers use “afterward,” and British English speakers use “afterwards,” but not all adverbs ending with -ward(s) follow similar spelling patterns. 

What does afterward or afterwards mean?

The word afterward or afterwards is an adverb that means ‘later,’at a future time,’ or ‘after something mentioned.’ For example,

“We played word games, and afterward we went out for ice cream.”
“She couldn’t recall what happened afterward.” 
“He switched his website to WordPress, and afterwards the online store crashed.”

Synonyms

After, eventually, then, later, later on, latterly, next, subsequently, thereafter.

Antonyms

Afore, ahead, antecedently, anteriorly, before, beforehand, earlier, formerly, heretofore, previously. 

Etymology of afterward

The term afterward entered the English Language via Old English as æfteweard. Old English æfterweard is related to the preposition ‘after,’ which means “in the time following” or “behind.” 

Is afterward or afterwards the same as afterword?

English speakers often confuse afterward or afterward with the homophone “afterword,” which has an entirely different meaning. The noun afterword is another term for “epilogue,” and it’s the concluding section of a book, speech, or musical composition. 

Additional examples of homophones include: 

How to use afterward or afterwards in a sentence?

We use the words afterward or afterwards in parts of speech that involve directionality. Both adverbs describe how something followed an event or occurred at a later time–– much like the words ‘later,’ ‘then,’ or ‘after.’ 

Example sentences include: 

“The former candidates discussed climate change, but afterward, they joked about their favorite candy.” 
Soon afterward, Romney had a follow-up interview with student journalists.”

The only time you need to be careful about writing afterward vs. afterwards is when you’re writing for a non-American audience. The spelling of “afterwards” (with the letter s) is standard for writers outside of the United States. So, without the “s,” the spelling is incorrect. 

Americans English writers use afterward or afterwards interchangeably, but professional editors prefer “afterward” for formal writing. For example, 

“Shortly afterward, Mr. Navarro said his comments were taken “wildly out of context” …” –– The New York Times
“Participants will be quarantined at home afterward, the minister said.” –– The Washington Post

FAQ: Related to afterward vs. afterwards

Do British English speakers pronounce afterwards the same as afterward?

While afterward and afterwards have slightly different spellings for American and British English, the spelling doesn’t necessarily change the pronunciation. But regional dialects sure do! 

British accents tend to pronounce the letter A as “au,” so they pronounce afterwards as “au-ft-er-werdz” (ˈɑːf.tə.wədz). Americans pronounce the letter A with a nasally “ah,” which makes the word afterward sound like “aahf-ter-wards” (ˈæf.tɚ.wɚdz). 

Test Yourself!

See how well you understand the difference between afterward vs. afterwards with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. Choose the correct meaning of the words afterward or afterwards.
    a. Later
    b. At a future time
    c. After something mentioned
    d. All of the above
  2. Which of the following terms is considered a formal spelling in the United States?
    a. Afterward
    b. Afterwards
    c. Afterword
    d. A and B
  3. Which of the following words is not synonymous with “afterward(s)”?
    a. Latterly
    b. Eventually
    c. Subsequently
    d. Antecedently 
  4. Which of the following words is not an antonym of “afterward(s)”?
    a. Heretofore
    b. Beforehand
    c. Epilogue
    d. Earlier
  5. Which of the following words is a homophone of afterwards?
    a. Afterward
    b. Afterthought
    c. Afterword
    d. A and C

Answers

  1. A
  2. A
  3. D
  4. C
  5. C

Photo sources

  1. Photo by Marylou Fortier
  2. Photo by Anita Jankovic 

Sources

  1. After.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  2. After, afterwards.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  3. Afterward.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  4. Afterward, afterwards.” Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 4 ed., Oxford University Press, 2015. 
  5. Afterwards.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  6. Afterwards.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. Dadouch, S. “Saudi Arabia announces drastic curbs to numbers for annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.” The Washington Post, 23 June 2020. 
  8. Downward.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  9. Epilogue.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  10. Homeward.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  11. Upwards.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  12. The Visas and the Fury.” The New York Times, 23 June 2020.