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an example from a dictionary (I couldn't find its source now):
(1) I didn’t see her again until a few days afterwards.
my variant:
(2) I didn’t see her again a few days afterwards.

How does "until" affect the meaning of the sentence?
What's the difference between (1) and (2)?

I think (2) makes sense because:

"I waited a few days" = "I waited for a few days" = "I waited over a few days".

By analogy: "I didn't see her again a few days afterwards" = "I didn't see her again for a few days afterwards" = "I didn't see her again over a few days afterwards".

Could you explain to me please why I'm wrong?

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  • 3
    The problem is the "afterwards", it completely changes the sense of the "few days" before it - from a length of time in it's entirety to the point at the end, as gotube explains - making your analogy fallacious. 'For', 'over' and no preposition can only be used with spans of time; 'until' requires a point
    – No Name
    Apr 23 at 13:44
  • Note gotube's and TimR's Answers. Noted exceptions aside, (2) would be more naturally expressed "I hadn't seen her again a few days afterwards", or, better, "A few days afterwards, I hadn't seen her again". This leaves it open whether you ever "see her again", whereas the "until" version implies that you do "see her again" after "a few days".
    – Matthew
    Apr 23 at 21:44
  • 1
    Instead of 'afterwards', it's probably better to say 'later'. Afterwards sounds a bit strange in this sentence.
    – paddotk
    Apr 24 at 9:06
  • I can't find its source now. Here it is– I think : on page 27, ex 5, question 10 Amazingly, despite rummaging through the cobwebs the only place I saw the sentence is in this textbook.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 24 at 19:54
  • "[…] see her until a few days ago” is much more common
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 24 at 19:59

8 Answers 8

10

"A few days" is a length of time. In the right context, the "for" is understood, as in your example with "waited".

"A few days afterwards", however, is a point in time, which is why "until a few days afterwards" makes sense, but "until a few days" is nonsense. So (2) means you didn't see her again, and the point in time when you didn't see her again was a few days afterwards, which is an odd meaning, and not what (1) means.

You could use "for":

I didn't see her again for a few days afterwards.

But this version carries the nuance that you chose not to see her, which "until" doesn't carry, so it still doesn't mean exactly the same as (1).

"I didn't see her again over a few days afterwards" is bad grammar because "over" is followed by a span of time (as opposed to a length of time, like "for"), and the days that followed are a specific set of days, so it would have to be:

I didn't see her again over the few days afterwards.

or more naturally,

I didn't see her again over the next few days.

Note again here now "the next few days" is a span of time, rather than a length.

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    Your first quoted sentence is splitting the phrase "a few days afterwards". In the original sentence, "a few days afterwards" refers to a specific point in time. You didn't see her until that time. In your sentence, the "afterwards" could be placed at the beginning of the sentence; it is no longer a part of the same phrase: Afterwards, I didn't see her again for a few days. Doing this with the original sentence is nonsense: Afterwards, I didn't see her again until a few days. The original refers to a point in time, the latter to a period of time, with "afterwards" as a modifier. Apr 23 at 17:05
  • You wrote: "over" is followed by a span of time as opposed to a length of time, like "for". Could you tell me please the difference between "a span of time" and "a length of time"?
    – Loviii
    Apr 23 at 23:03
  • @Loviii A length of time is a measurement. A span of time is some period of time. For instance, "100 years" is a length of time. "The nineteenth century" is a span of time, and its length is 100 years. Spans of time are often worded in terms of their length, like "over the following week", but sometimes they're not, like "over the course of my career". Obviously the career has some length, but that phrase doesn't mention it.
    – gotube
    Apr 24 at 4:04
10

QUESTION: (1) I didn’t see her again until a few days afterwards. my variant: (2) I didn’t see her again a few days afterwards.

They mean different things.

  1. means a few days went by and then you saw her again.

  2. means that you didn't see her again at some point, here, a few days later.

  • I didn't see her again a few days afterwards. I saw her three weeks afterwards.

The meaning of 2) can be seen in the addition to your example that I have given.

3

The only times I can think of, where your second version without until would be idiomatic, is in response to a question in which you are denying the assertion of the question:

Prosecutor: Isn't it true that you saw her again a few days afterwards?

Defendant: I didn't see her again a few days afterwards.

or in some sort of pre-emptive refutation:

Dear sentimental reader, though I know what you may be hoping for in the way of an ending to this story, I must disappoint you. I didn't see her again a few days afterwards. I never saw her again.

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    I waited a few days. = I waited for a few days. = I waited over a few days. By analogy: I didn't see her again a few days afterwards. = I didn't see her again for a few days afterwards. = I didn't see her again over a few days afterwards. I'm starting to feel I've written something wrong but I don't know what and why. Could you help me please?
    – Loviii
    Apr 22 at 21:28
  • 1
    I wouldn't use over in either context. The point is that "I didn't see her again for a few days" means that I did see her again, but only after several days had passed. Apr 23 at 7:51
  • @Lovii I didn't wait a few days afterwards is not idiomatic to my ear. Intransitive did not wait + {duration} is not comparable to transitive did not see her +{vaguely specified point in time in the (then) future}. When I try to wrest your sentence with "wait" into a context, it almost works, but fails on afterwards though it works with "after that".
    – TimR
    Apr 23 at 12:08
  • Context: I was in the habit of waiting a few days between showers, even though I was on the football team and we practiced every day. One day my team mates said I was very unpleasant to be around. I didn't wait a few days afterwards. Almost works, fails on afterwards, works with after that.
    – TimR
    Apr 23 at 12:13
  • 1
    I didn't see her a few days afterwardsI didn't see her for a few days afterwards The first says that they did not meet a few days after something happened; there was no such meeting at that juncture. The second says that a few days elapsed between something happening and their next meeting.
    – TimR
    Apr 23 at 12:21
0

The sentence makes no sense without until. If you 'didn't see her again' full stop - never again - why mention 'a few days afterwards'?

(1) means that a few days afterwards was the first time you saw her again after some incident. If the sentence was used in real life, this would have been mentioned in a previous sentence.

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    We can contrive a context for almost anything. You might have said "I'll see you in a few days" when you left the other person. And you might have had a another friend with you at that time, in which a case month later if that other friend says: "You said you'd see her again. Did you?" you might reply "I didn’t see her again a few days afterwards. In fact, I didn't see her again until yesterday". That might be a perfectly ordinary thing to say in the circumstances. Apr 22 at 16:55
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"A few days afterwards" is ambiguous out of context. Is it a point in time, or is it a span of time?

"Until a few days afterwards" makes it clear that it is a point in time being referenced. "For a few days afterwards" makes it clear that it is a span of time. The entire sentence means much the same with either construct.

"I didn't see her a few days afterwards." is jarring (I hesitate to say ungrammatical) because this ambiguity is unresolved. The words themselves can be OK if the sentence is extended: "I didn't see her a few days afterwards when the fire alarm went off during the lecture, but she must have noticed me". It's now unambiguously a point in time.

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Until sets a limit at which point some condition ends.

The structure will be: [some condition continues] until [a second condition occurs ending the first condition.]

Ex. You must wait at the red traffic light until it turns green.

The thing changing in the first condition can be subtle. For example,

I will watch television until I get bored.

In that case the television does not necessarily turn off, the condition that ends is the subject watching television. Maybe that person leaves the television room, but some other person remains and continues to watch television.

What's the difference between (1) and (2)?

In your examples, (1) ends with you seeing the person again, but (2) means you have not seen her again at the point in time a few days afterwards. The meaning of (2) is open ended, because the possibility remains that you may see her again, but at a time farther into the future.

0

Firstly, afterwards is awkward; later is more natural. I.e. (1) reads better as, 'I didn't see her again until three days later'.

The simple answer to your question is that until is never optional in English, so you can't say (2) to mean the same as (1).

It is different with for in your example, because for is optional in certain structures. (BTW, the over example is incorrect.)

As to (2), I would argue that it is ungrammatical except in contrived examples that are unlikely to occur in natural speech. Put (2) in your 'don't say it this way' basket.

-1

I didn’t see her again a few days afterwards.

...means someone might have expected you to see her a few days afterwards, but in fact you didn't!

The until completely changes the phrase by qualifying the negation, and limiting it to a span of time ended at the given moment. Without it, the phrase remains negative, so you didn't see her!

ADDITION for clarity: Imagine you had a specific time.

I didn't see her again until Tuesday.

I didn't see her again Tuesday.

Here it's clear that what you are saying is that Tuesday passed and you didn't see her!

It's only more murky in the case of "a few days later" because our brain EXPECTS that kind of expression to be paired with an "until" and sorts of fills it in. But if we stay with the logical meaning of the phrase then it's saying something different -that a period that can't be described as "a few days" passed before you saw her again, or possibly you didn't see her again at all.

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  • I agree with your logic here, but it is a bit complex to follow. Your answer could be improved by giving some examples to show what you mean more clearly. Try coming up with some other examples that use and omit the word until. May 2 at 4:01

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