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Sometimes I hear someone speaking "after" and sometimes "afterwards", what is the difference between these words?

closed as off-topic by Alejandro, Glorfindel, Nathan Tuggy, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, user3169 Dec 20 '15 at 22:21

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  • afterwards is an adverb while after can be an adjective, preposition, conjunction or adverb. – Alejandro Dec 20 '15 at 21:39
  • afterwards is usually used as an adverb to imply "after an event that already has happened/mentioned". However, after can be adjective, adverbial conjunction, adverb, or preposition. – Cardinal Dec 20 '15 at 22:02
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I'm not a native speaker. Feel free to correct my mistakes.

According to article in English Grammar Today:

  1. Only after can be used as preposition:

    I will meet her after dinner.
    I will meet her afterwards dinner.

  2. Only after can be used as conjunction:

    I will meet her after she finishes her work.
    I will meet her afterwards she finishes her work.

  3. Both after and afterwards can be used as adverb:

    • Both after and afterwards can be precised by exact (3 years after/afterwards, 2 days after/afterwards) or inexact (soon after/afterwards, shortly after/afterwards, ever after/afterwards) time period specification:

      I payed all my debts and left the city three days after.
      I payed all my debts. Three days afterwards I left the city.

    • I'm not sure if after can be used as adverb when having no dependent words. Afterwards is widely used in this case:

      ??? I cut the chicken and I washed my hands after. ???
      I cut the chicken and afterwards I washed my hands.

    After (when used as adverb) has to be put in the end. While, according to topic in WordReference Forum, afterwards is usually put before clause/phrase it relates to, it can also be put in the end to make special emphasis:

    I cut the chicken and washed my hands three minutes after.
    I cut the chicken and three minutes afterwards I washed my hands.

    — Did you wash your hands before touching the chicken?
    — No, I cut the chicken and washed my hands afterwards.

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