Afterward vs. Afterword: How to Choose the Right Word

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. In fact, the 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" or "afterwards" is interchangeable with the words "after" and "later." "Afterward" means at a subsequent or later time and usually relates to events that occur relatively close together.

Typically, "afterward" is used to refer to events that occur one right after the other. For example, "Jane went to church and then attended the coffee hour held 'afterward.'" It is sometimes used to refer to events that are widely separated in time as well. For example, "Mary was born in 1910 and had her three children long 'afterward.'"

How to Use "Afterword"

The noun "afterword" is another word for epilogue, the concluding section of a text. The "afterword" is typically written by the author of a book, play, or other significant work and at one point in the past, was referred to as the "author's notes."

The "afterword" may offer the author an opportunity to reflect on the work or acknowledge others whose support was important in the writing of the work. Often, an "afterword" is added to later printings of a book that has been updated or about which critics have been particularly positive or negative. It's an opportunity for the author to respond to criticism or add insights.

Examples

Because they have such different meanings, it's important to differentiate correctly between "afterward" and "afterword."

  • 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 afterwards that concerns me," the term "afterwards" refers 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.

Usage Note

There's no difference in meaning between "afterward" and "afterwards." In American English, "afterward" is more common, whereas in British English and Canadian English, "afterwards" is more common.

  • Louise and Jane had dinner and went to the theater afterward.
  • They had a wonderful time at the party but could hardly remember it afterward.
  • The fans were impressed by the performer's first song but were less delighted by the songs she sang afterwards.

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