Photograph courtesy of Anderson W. Rangel
After you read this article, you’ll be a pro on how to use these two words. Both “later” and “after” mean “at a time in the future.” But the words are used differently, and are often confused. Let’s look at how each of the words are used.
- “Later” is an adverb. It means “at a time in the future.” When we use it this way we don’t need to answer the question “later than what?” – it can stand alone.
Examples: Let’s watch a movie later. / I’ll move in to the apartment later this month. / I’ll see you later.
- “Later” can also be used as an adjective, the comparative form of the adjective “late.”
Examples: I’m taking a later train, since I missed the first one. / He is later than usual. (more late)
- “After” is mostly used as a preposition, which means it is usually part of a prepositional phrase, and is followed by a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase. Usually we need to answer the question: “After what?” when we use “after” as a preposition. “After” means “at a point in the future following an event or time.”
Examples: Let’s get ice cream after the movie. (After what? The movie.) / After college, he hopes to work at Google. (After what? After college.)
- “After” is also used as a conjunction to say that something happened directly following something else.
Examples: She dried her hair after she washed it. / After she washed her hair, she dried it.
- “After” can also be used as an adverb. But remember that you must answer the question “After what?” If the sentences ends with “after,” something earlier in the sentence needs to answer that question.
Examples: Her friends stopped by but left soon after. (After what? After they stopped by.) / I won’t have time to the gym this week, but I will the week after. (After what? After this week.)
Note: A common mistake is to use “after” by itself at the beginning of a sentence: After, I did my homework. This is incorrect because it doesn’t answer the question “After what?” To correct it, just add a noun object. For example: After dinner, I did my homework.
An easy way to fix this is to use the adverb “afterwards,” which is a synonym to “later” and also means “at a point in the future following something else.” Afterwards, I did my homework. (Note: you have to have mentioned some previous event to be able to use afterwards.)
I hope you feel confident in your use of “after” and “later” after reading this post!
Read more of our “English Help” posts here.