Afterward vs. Afterword: How to Choose the Right Word

Two Homophones With Very Different Meanings

Ernest Hemingway, from a draft of the ending to <i>A Farewell to Arms</i> (1920)

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The words "afterward" and "afterword" are homophones (or near homophones). They sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. These two words have little in common, although another pair of related terms—"afterward" and "afterwards"—mean exactly the same thing.

How to Use Afterward

The adverb "afterward" is interchangeable with the words "after" and "later." "Afterward" is defined as a subsequent or later time and usually relates to events that occur relatively close together.

"Afterward" is typically used to refer to events that occur one right after the other—as in, "Jane went to church and then attended the coffee hour held afterward."—but it can also be used to refer to events that are widely separated in time—as in, "Mary was born in 1910 and had her three children long 'afterward.'"

How to Use Afterword

The noun "afterword" is another word for an epilogue, the concluding section of a text. An "afterword" is typically written by the author of a book, play, or other significant work and for this reason used to be called "author notes."

The "afterword" allows an author to reflect on their work or acknowledge the support of others that made it possible. Often, an "afterword" is added to later printings or updated versions of a book, especially one that has received significant positive or negative criticism, because it's an opportunity for the author to respond to critique and add insight.

Examples

Because they have such different meanings, it's important to learn to differentiate correctly between "afterward" and "afterword." They should not be used interchangeably.

  • In the sentence, "We enjoyed a large dinner and afterward had coffee and a gooey dessert," the term "afterward" is used to place events in chronological order: First, we ate dinner, and then later, we ate dessert.
  • In the sentence, "It's not the election itself but what happens afterward that concerns me," the term "afterward" refers again to timing: First the election will occur, and then sometime later, we will have to cope with the results.
  • In the sentence, "In a thoughtful afterword, the author described her writing process and acknowledged the difficulty she encountered with such a difficult topic," the word "afterword" refers to a short essay that might otherwise be described as "author notes."

How to Remember the Difference

The easiest way to distinguish between "afterward" and "afterword" is to remember that "afterword" includes the word "word." Thus an "afterword" is a final word from the author. "Afterward," on the other hand, always refers to time.

Usage Note

There's no difference in meaning between "afterward" and "afterwards," but the two are generally used in separate contexts. In American English, "afterward" is more common, whereas in British English and Canadian English, "afterwards" is.

Sources