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  1. After rollers, the invention was the wheel and axle. ( using "after" as an adverb phrase)

  2. The invention after rollers was the wheel and axle. (using "after" as adjective phrase)

I want to know if these sentences will be different in meaning?

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    I can't really see any contexts in which your first version could be "natural" (why the invention?). The easiest fix is to introduce a qualifier, such as After rollers, the next invention was the wheel and axle, which is just a stylised re-sequencing of The next invention after rollers was [blah blah]. I would think there will be a grammatical principle debarring the specific resequencing in your example, but I don't know how to describe it. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 18 '17 at 17:24
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    I don't think "after rollers" is an adverb phrase, since in either sentence it modifies "invention". – Andrew Jul 18 '17 at 17:45
  • To use after in an adverb phrase, you must use the phrase to modify a verb. For instance, "Wheels and axles were invented after rollers, whatever they may be." – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jul 18 '17 at 18:29
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First, to answer your question: the two sentences do mean the same thing.

However, the syntax of the first sentence is awkward and would not be used by native English speakers. The second sentence is more clear but still could be improved.

Interestingly, "after rollers" in both sentences is an adverb phrase. It modifies "was". Weird, right? Some examples on more natural ways to write what I think you're trying to communicate:

  • "The wheel and axle were invented after rollers."
  • "The use of rollers was followed by the invention of the wheel and axle"
  • "The invention of the wheel and axle replaced rollers."

And so on.

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