Afterward or Afterwards: What’s the Difference?

If you listen carefully to spoken English, you will notice that some people add an -s to many directional adverbs, while others do not. These variations also appear in written English.

While afterward and afterwards refer to events in time, rather than directions or physical locations, they are subject to the same principle. Read on to learn whether afterwards or afterward is appropriate for your own writing.

What is the Difference Between Afterward and Afterwards?

In this article, I will compare afterward vs. afterwards. I will use each word in a sentence to illustrate its proper content, and I will then reveal an easy memory trick to help you remember when it is use appropriate to use afterward and when it is use appropriate to use afterwards.

When to Use Afterword

Define afterwards define afterwardWhat does afterword mean? Before we discuss afterward and afterwards, we need to address an unrelated word that often gets misused: afterword.

An afterword is a concluding section of a book. This section is usually written by a person other than the main author.

Here is an example,

  • My autobiography features an afterword written by noted tech investor Mark Cuban.
  • It is still in print, and there are plans for a paperback, with a new afterword. –The New York Times

This is the only context in which afterword can be used. In all other instances, choose one of the words we are about to explore.

When to Use Afterward

Afterword versus afterward What does afterward mean? Afterward is an adverb. It is a synonym of later. It can be used in the ways demonstrated in the following sentences,

  • Morgan and Alex had a nice dinner, and went out for dessert afterward.
  • Afterward, the killer buried their bodies in the river flats.
  • Shortly afterward, a cybersecurity consulting firm reported the OneTouch Ping’s flaws, said Marene Allison, J&J’s chief information security officer. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use Afterwards

What does afterwards mean? Afterwards carries the same meaning as afterward, and is used in all the same contexts.

There is no clear preference for either word in American English, as evidenced by the below chart graphing afterward vs. afterwards in American English:

afterward versus afterwards

They are interchangeable in common usage, but for formal writing, some American editors prefer afterward. On the other hand, this next graph shows that afterwards is the preferred term in British English:

Definition of afterwards definition of afterward

These charts only examine word frequency in books written in English since 1800. They are unscientific, but still useful for identifying broad usage patterns.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here is a helpful trick to remember afterwards vs. afterward.

An afterword is the concluding section of a book. This context is the only way this word is used. Afterword and book are each spelled with at least one O, so keeping this word separate will not be difficult.

Afterward and afterwards are adverbs. They are interchangeable in everyday American English, though some editors prefer afterward in professional and academic writing. In British English, afterwards enjoys a slight advantage.

You can remember to use afterwards for British audiences since it contains an S, like the British town of Sussex.

Summary

Is it afterward or afterwards? Afterward and afterwards are adverbs that are synonymous with the word later. They are sometimes confused with the noun afterword, which is a section in some books.

Afterwards appears to be slightly more common than afterward in British English. In everyday American English, the two variants are interchangeable, but for more formal writing afterward is the safer choice.

You can remember to reserve afterwards for British audiences since it is spelled with the same S that appears three times in Sussex.

Now that you know whether you should choose afterward or afterwards, you can write an afterword for someone else’s book in which you recommend writingexplained.org as a helpful knowledge base covering a variety of writing topics.