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Clearing Up Your Behind: 然后vs之后vs以后

Gah, sometimes it can get a bit confusing when the translations are about the same but there is a subtle difference in meaning. With 然后, 以后 and 之后, they all mean “after” or “behind” in English, yet there are particular times when you should only use 之后 or shouldn’t use 以后 etc. After the red house, make a left. We had dinner together and afterwards, we went to shoot some pool.  After taking a shower, I brushed my teeth. Do we use the same “x后” in these sentences?

Let’s take a closer look!
 


 

Clearing Up Your Behind: 然后vs之后vs以后

Definition & Use

然后(ránhòu): then; after that; afterwards

This is used to signify the passing of time, especially when narrating a story or telling a sequence of events. It’s similar to how in English, there’s first, then, last/finally. When you went on vacation you first check into the hotel and then went to your room to freshen up.

以后(yǐhòu): after; afterwards; later; hereafter; from now on

This is used referring to the future, that later on or from here on out “x” will happen or not happen. If your friend is always 20 minutes late for dinner, you could say that from now on, you’ll arrive 15-20 after the time you agreed upon.

之后(zhīhòu): after; behind; afterwards

This can be used to mean immediately after, literally/physically behind something, or afterwards (like 然后). I parked the car behind 53rd Street.

The Main Differences:

1. “然后” VS “之后”:

Out of the 3 main uses for 之后, one of the meanings can be interchanged with 然后 (see example sentences 2 & 8). However, when using 然后, the amount of time between events can be longer compared to 之后 (which implies more of an “immediately after” meaning).

然后 is usually used after a “first”or “first of all” (see example sentences 1 & 3).

  2. “之后” VS “以后”:

When using 以后 there is a gap of time that will have lapsed (example 5), like the next time you’ll have Christmas dinner. When using 之后, the lapsed time is a lot shorter (see example 7) than it would be when using 以后, such as what to do immediately after you finish dinner.

In a situation where the time isn’t clear, either could be used (see example 4).

  3. “以后” VS “然后”:

The main difference between these two is that 以后 is used at the end of a sentence but 然后 is at the beginning (of a sentence, clause or phrase).

One other difference is that 以后 could be used along with words that express a certain time but 然后 can’t (see example 6).

Let’s look at these found in the wild: Sentences With 然后:

Example 1:

首先,把鸡蛋打散,这个应该没啥可说的,无非就是把鸡蛋磕在碗里,然后拿着筷子 … 然后切葱花 “

“shǒu xiān, bǎ jī dàn dǎ sǎn, zhè gè yīng gāi méi shá kě shuō de, wú fēi jiù shì bǎ jī dàn kē zài wǎn lǐ, rán hòu ná zhe kuài zi … rán hòu qiē cōng huā “

“First, beat the eggs, this should be straight forward, just beat the eggs in the bowl, then take the chopsticks … then cut the green onions”

Example 2:

为了增加营收,到了冬季,疗养院留下的工作人员就开始包饺子,然后速冻起来送到上级单位,以此获得一点收入 “

“wèi le zēng jiā yíng shōu, dào le dōng jì, liáo yǎng yuàn liú xià de gōng zuò rén yuán jiù kāi shǐ bāo jiǎo zi, rán hòu sù dòng qǐ lái sòng dào shàng jí dān wèi, yǐ cǐ huò dé yī diǎn shōu rù”

“In order to increase revenue during the winder, the nursing home staff made dumplings, and then froze them, and sent them to higher level units to earn a little more money”

Example 3:

先在Word或者记事本中撰写文章,然后再将其复制到WordPress等博客平台是大部分用户的做法 “

“xiān zài Word huò zhě jì shì běn zhōng zhuàn xiě wén zhāng, rán hòu zài jiāng qí fù zhì dào WordPress děng bó kè píng tái shì dà bù fen yòng hù de zuò fǎ “

“Writing a rough draft in Word or Notepad first, and then copying it into the WordPress blog platform is the typical practice of most users”

  Sentences With 以后:

Example 4:

当城市入夜以后,华灯初上,景色迷人,一天暴戾之气渐散,是时候放松自己了 “

“dānɡ chéng shì rù yè yǐ hòu, huá dēng chū shàng, jǐng sè mí rén, yì tiān bào lì zhī qì jiàn sàn, shì shí hou fàng sōng zìjǐ le”

After the city is dark, when the lights first turn on, with mesmerizing sights, the whole day’s noise gradually fades, it’s time to relax”

Example 5:

刘翔结束训练回国,被告知以后再也不用怕脚伤了 “

“liú xiáng jié shù xùn liàn huí guó, bèi gào zhī yǐ hòu zài yě bú yòng pà jiǎo shāng le”

“Liu Xiang finished training and returned home, he was told that from now on he would never need to be afraid of hurting his foot”

Example 6:

每工作2个小时以后就应该站起来让眼睛休息一下 “

“měi gōng zuò 2 gè xiǎo shí yǐ hòu jiù yīng gāi zhàn qǐ lái ràng yǎn jīng xiū xi yí xià”

After every time you work for two hours, you should stand up and allow your eyes to rest a bit”

  Sentences With 之后:

Example 7:

暴跌之后突发重大利好,A股有望迎来报复性反弹

“bào diē zhī hòu tū fā zhòng dà lì hǎo, A gǔ yǒu wàng yíng lái bào fù xìng fǎn tán”

“After a slump, the sudden positive A shares are expected to rebound”

Example 8:

诸瑛出生于1982年,2004年考取上海市台球协会的资质证明,之后她便开始了执法 “

“zhū yīng chū shēng yú 1982 nián, 2004 nián kǎo qǔ shàng hǎi shì tái qiú xié huì de zī zhì zhèng míng, zhī hòu tā biàn kāi shǐ le zhí fǎ “

“Zhu Ying was born in 1982, got into the Shanghai Billiards Association in 2004 to obtain credentials, afterwards, she began law enforcement”

Example 9:

巴基斯坦之后,解放军又一海外军事基地落成 “

“bā jī sī tǎn zhī hòu, jiě fàng jūn yòu yī hǎi wài jūn shì jī dì luò chéng “

After Pakistan, the People’s Liberation Army will have completed another overseas military base”

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One Response to Clearing Up Your Behind: 然后vs之后vs以后

  1. Albert July 25, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Thanks Christina. I was hoping to see 后来 in there too but maybe there will be a post on that “later” :-)