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For the following scenarios, can we use "retrospectively" or do we have to use "afterwards" and its synonyms.

Example

  • Let's agree to the plan for now and figure out the details retrospectively.
  • Let's check "yes, I have completed the training" for now and do the actual training retrospectively.

Based on the definition, retrospectively is defined as

definition

  • in a way that relates to or involves thinking about something that happened in the past
  • with effect from a date in the past before a law, decision, etc. was approved:

However, I seem to have heard that people (not knowing if they are native speakers) at times use it in a situation similar to the above examples. Or would it be a considered a misuse/incorrect use of the word retrospective(ly).

2

There is nothing grammatical preventing you from using "retrospectively" about future events, but it could be unclear what you mean in some cases. For example, there is nothing in your first sentence that indicates that "figure out the details retrospectively" is referring to something in the future. Someone might interpret that sentence as meaning:

Let's agree to the plan for now and also figure out the details now by thinking about things that have already happened so far.

You could rephrase the sentence to show your intended meaning more explicitly, like this:

Let's agree to the plan for now, and later we can figure out the details retrospectively.

However, I think the better word for both of your contexts is "retroactively." "Retrospectively" means to do something while thinking about things in the past, and "retroactively" means to do something in a way that affects things in the past.

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Your first sentence is fine, assuming that the figuring out of the details will take into account events that occur after the plan is agreed to. If that is not the case (if the figuring out is simply being postponed, and no consideration of new information will be made), then it would be better simply to say:

Let's agree to the plan for now and figure out the details later.

To take an action retrospectively simply means to perform the action with regards to previous events, or with hindsight. The etymology is useful in understanding the word: it is a borrowing from Latin that literally means to look back. There's no reason the events in question have to have happened in the past at the time the word is used.

Grammatically, in your first sentence, retrospectively is an adverb modifying the verb figure out. The figuring out is happening in the future, and the retrospective aspect refers to events that will have happened before that time. (Even though most dictionary definitions use the word past, they mean in the past from the point of view of the verb that is being modified.)

I agree with Tashus that making the figure out explicitly in the future reduces an chance of misunderstanding. Adding the word later works, so would using the future tense:

Let's agree to the plan for now and we will figure out the details retrospectively.

With that said, I don't like the usage in the second sentence. The meaning is clear enough, but the future "doing the actual training" doesn't really involve hindsight. If I were writing that sentence, I would simply say:

Let's check "yes, I have completed the training" for now and do the actual training later.

  • To Matthew & Tashus, part of the reasons behind the question came from an observation that the word "retrospectively" does not seem to be synonymous to "retroactively", "later" or "afterwards". Neither of your explanations indicates that "retrospectively" is wrong in the examples, but merely that it is vague in the temporal sense and thus prone for being misunderstood. Is my understanding correct? – B Chen Jan 18 at 11:46
  • @BChen My last paragraph does address the issue of whether "retrospectively" is correct in the examples, and I believe it is not the best choice. I cannot say certainly that it is wrong, because that depends on your intended meaning. The words have related definitions, but "retrospectively" and "retroactively" are not synonyms, and neither one is a synonym of "later" or "afterwards". – Tashus Jan 18 at 15:22
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    @BChen "Retrospectively" and "retroactively" indicate that the things that they describe relate to the past from the perspective of those described things. Therefore, if you vaguely describe when some retrospective/retroactive action occurs, the timing of that relative past will also be unclear. – Tashus Jan 18 at 15:25
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    @BChen: Not exactly. Retrospectively means "with hindsight". It does not simply mean "later" or "afterwards", although a retrospective can only occur after the events that are being taken into account, which is probably why the terms might be confused. If your first example means to imply that when the details will be figured out they will be done using information collected up to that point, then retrospective is fine. If it simply means that the details are being postponed, then it is wrong, but without knowing the speaker's intent, we can't say for sure. – Matthew W Jan 18 at 22:36
  • @BChen The second example is probably incorrect, because it seems unlikely that there will be any hindsight involved when the training occurs, but, again, it depends on the speaker's intent. The event can occur in the past, present, or future; to be retrospective simply means that it takes into account things that happened before it. We could discuss something retrospectively today or tomorrow, or could have done so yesterday, but whenever the discussion happens or happened, we were taking into account things that happened before it. – Matthew W Jan 18 at 22:44

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