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Expressing the Many Meanings of After

By Eric W. Vogt

The word "after" in English can convey the concept of time or space (to run "after" someone). It's important to know which sense of the word you mean in order to make the right choice in Spanish -- and you may need to use the subjunctive.

Just What Do You Mean By "After"?

Meaning what you say depends on knowing what you mean... Knowing what you mean will help you as you make the right choices of words and grammar structures in Spanish. The word after can call for a few different solutions in Spanish, depending on whether it is used prepositionally or if it is followed by a conjunction (que) or if it is adverbial. Let's take a look:

Prepositional uses that correspond to the English word after:

When there is only one subject who performs more than one action, the phrase después de is followed by an infinitive. Notice that in English, when a verb follows a preposition, it is always in the -ing form; in Spanish, when a verb directly follows a preposition, it is always, always in the infinitive:

Después de dormir, mi hermano decidió ir a nadar (After sleeping, my brother decided to go for a swim).

Después de salir a la calle, me di cuenta de que había dejado la puerta abierta (After going out, I realized I had left the door ajar).

Another prepositional word meaning after is tras. When it is used in a temporal sense, it indicates an event that is either sequential or that happens in a series. When this preposition is spacial, it indicates the idea of right behind, or on the trail of... and so forth:

Año tras año, el río sigue inundando el valle (Year after year, the river keeps flooding the valley).

Los perros corrieron tras el conejo (The dogs ran after the rabbit).

If there are two subjects involved, one in the first or main clause, and one in the clause following after (the subordinated clause), then the conjunction que must be used following de to link them. If the main verb is present tense, the verb in the subordinate clause (following después de que) will be in the present subjunctive, because there is a notion of anticipation. On the other hand, if the main verb is in a past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause will be in an indicative past tense, because it merely reports a past event:

Vamos al parque después de que venga mi hermano (Let's go to the park after my brother arrives).

Fuimos al parque después de que vino mi hermano (We went to the park after my brother arrived).

Finally, after may be adverbial. It is often contrasted with some notion of sequential action, such as first.. and then... In these cases, después means afterwards:

Nadamos y después dormimos (We swam and afterwards, we slept).