I googled 'the aftermath of German reunification' but few results came out.

Yes, 'aftermath' means 'the consequences or aftereffects of a significantly unpleasant event,' but is it always used that way?

I mean, is 'aftermath' only used when referring to the consequences brought about by a negative event?

For example, does 'the aftermath of German reunification' sound unnatural?

  • 1
    I have yet to come across an exception to its use in a negative sense although one might talk about the aftermath of a lottery win if it led the winner to perdition. Jul 3 '18 at 16:25
  • "Aftermath" would be used for a complicated situation, but not necessarily a negative one. For example, "the aftermath of the discovery of America" shows the discovery was a complex event with mixed and lasting outcomes. Your use seems fine.
    – urnonav
    Jul 3 '18 at 16:58
  • Note that afterglow is an always-positive alternate to aftermath. Jul 3 '18 at 21:11
  • @CanadianYankee it's not exact, though; "the afterglow of the discovery of nuclear power" is, apart from the pun, only really applicable to effects on societal attitudes, rather than other potentially-positive consequences (like, say, developments in science and technology).
    – Darael
    Jul 3 '18 at 21:23
  • I wish I could better understand what you Googled. I got scores of hits when I entered your search term sans quotes, and almost 100 when I put it in quotation marks, meaning Google found dozens of exact matches. What constitutes “few results”?
    – J.R.
    Jul 3 '18 at 22:39

No, it sounds perfectly fine, although it certainly reveals your opinion that reunification was a difficult, even painful process, with significant consequences. It also assumes that you believe "reunification" is complete.

It does not, however, indicate you feel reunification in itself was a bad thing. For example I can say:

The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to help rebuild Western European economies in the aftermath of World War II.

Here, "aftermath" suggests that the war was certainly terrible, but it does not suggest it was wrong.

While "aftermath" is always used with significant and unpleasant events, it can be (somewhat) ironic:

In the aftermath of the tumultuous wedding, the young couple escaped on their honeymoon with only minor injuries, leaving their families to pick up the pieces.


I just looked up "aftermath" on thefreedictionary.com, https://www.thefreedictionary.com/aftermath, which gives definitions from several dictionaries. They say that American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "A consequence, especially of a disaster or misfortune". Collins English Dictionary says, "signs or results of an event or occurrence considered collectively, esp of a catastrophe or disaster". And Random House says, "something that follows and usu. results from an event, esp. one of a calamitous nature; consequence".

So it seems that they are all defining it as either limited to negative results, or at least primarily referring to negative results.

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