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Afterward vs. afterwards

There is no difference between afterward and afterwards. Neither is more correct or incorrect than the other, and both appear throughout the English-speaking world. North American writers tend to favor afterward, while English speakers from outside the U.S. and Canada tend to favor afterwards. But this is not a rule, and exceptions are easily found.

Every word ending in the directional suffix -ward has a parallel -wards form,1 and afterward and afterwards are just one of many of these -ward/-wards pairs. In modern usage, the –ward forms are more common in North America, and the -wards forms are more common outside North America. By and large, the words in each of these pairs are interchangeable with each other. There are a few exceptions—for example, forward has definitions it does not share with forwards—but afterward and afterwards are so far undifferentiated, so you are safe using the form that sounds better to you.

Examples

North American publications favor afterward—for example:

Afterward, Smith’s eyes were glassy as he recounted his decision to play. [New York Times]

And afterward, well, that’s one more person genuinely sorry – and not experiencing mixed emotions – to see you go. [Globe and Mail]

When asked his reaction to the scene unfolding around him afterward, Jayson Werth said, “We got a long way to go.” [Washington Post]


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And publications from outside North America favor afterwards—for example:

Armed police believed Mark Duggan was raising a gun he had been hiding under his jacket when they shot him in taxi, but the weapon could not be found by officers afterwards. [Telegraph]

Afterwards, media trends went from “Romney won” and “silent Lehrer”, to “Obama fights back” and “Romney confidence soars”. [Irish Times]

He said he had received several phone calls afterwards about problems caused by the outage. [Southland Times]

Sources

1. “-wards” in the OED

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Comments

  1. Tristan says:

    Note: This isn’t a personal attack on the author. Nevertheless, seeking advice from an author that lacks grammatical acumen only leads to further use of poor dialect. For example, “Neither is more correct or incorrect than the other,” is both grammatically and contextually incorrect. “Neither,” as an adverb, does not facilitate a ‘true’ and complete sentence. Additionally, as a determiner and pronoun, “neither” is used to differentiate between two separate things or subjects. Therefore, its use in proper context is, “The difference between using either ‘afterward’ or ‘afterwards’ is neither more nor less correct than the other.” Additionally, we can simplify the sentence and still maintain its original context, “There is no difference in meaning when using either afterward or afterwards.”

    Again, my intention for correcting this imprecision wasn’t to degrade its author, but rather to acknowledge the fact that we are loosing the ability to communicate with one another through the use of grammatically incorrect linguistics. Taking action may be our last refuge should mistakes like these continue to remain unnoticed until they become linguistically acceptable and introduced into our children’s grammar curriculum.

    • Caroline Vega says:

      You may want to check the difference between “loosing” vs. “losing” in your comment: “rather to acknowledge the fact that we are loosing the ability to communicate with one another through the use of grammatically incorrect linguistics.”

    • Sarah Warren says:

      In addition to Caroline’s comment, I’d add that “an author that” would be much better phrased as “an author who”.

      Giving advice or criticism when one lacks grammatical acumen leads to embarrassing errors like these.

      • Ray Butterworth says:

        > it is clunky and ugly usage to refer to a person as a “that”.

        Perhaps, but it is correct. Using “who” is actually incorrect.

        “who” is the personal form of “which”,
        but “who” is not a valid replacement for “that”.

        “who” and “which” are used for parenthetical clauses, which are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.
        “that” is used for clauses that change the meaning of the word that precedes them.

        For example, compare the different meanings of:
        – The cookies, which are on the table, are for the boys, who are hungry.
        – The cookies that are on the table are for the boys that are hungry.

        In the first case, the parenthetical “which” and “who” clauses could be removed without changing the fundamental meaning of the sentence: “The cookies are for the boys.”
        It assumes that there is no ambiguity about what is meant by “the cookies” and “the boys”.

        In the second case, the restrictive “that” affects the meaning of the sentence. The room could have other cookies that are not the subject of that sentence. There could be boys that aren’t hungry and so don’t get the cookies that are on the table. And there could be girls, who may or may not be hungry, that might be entitled to something else.

    • Neither obviously isn’t an adverb in this case. It’s short for “neither one,” and is the subject of the sentence.

  2. In the example that you use, “neither” is a substantive adjective. Crawl back in your hole, you half-educated schoolmarm.

  3. Sandstone78 says:

    There is a word count threshold after which it has been statisticably imposibilified for even the naziest of vocabularimen and grammatisticians to avoid all need of editing and proofreading.

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