English native speakers often get confused when they try to translate a word like “after” into German, and it’s easy to see why. “After” can be rendered into German in three ways: “nach”, “danach” and “nachdem”. So what is the difference? In this blog post, I will explain.
The difference between the three words is that they belong to different categories within German grammar, which also means that they need to be used differently. “Nach” is a preposition that always goes with the dative case, whereas “danach” and “nachdem” are connectors that affect the word order in different ways. While “danach” is a main clause connector that is followed by the conjugated verb and then the subject, “nachdem” is a subordinate clause conjunction that sends the conjugated verb to the end of the sentence. Let’s rephrase the same idea with the three words and consider the difference in grammar.
Nach dem Unterricht esse ich zu Abend
(After the lesson I eat dinner).
Nachdem der Unterricht beendet ist, esse ich zu Abend.
(After the lesson is finished, I eat dinner)
Der Unterricht ist bald beendet. Danach esse ich zu Abend.
(The lesson is over soon. Afterwards I’ll eat dinner)
“Nach” doesn’t impact the word order in a sentence, unless it is placed at the start of the sentence where it then acts as emphasis on time and, like in any main clause, must be followed by the conjugated verb. However, we could easily put the time phrase after the verb and then it wouldn’t have any effect on the syntax.
Ich esse nach dem Unterricht zu Abend.
As a main clause connector or joining adverb (“Verbindungsadverb”), “danach” is usually placed at the start of the sentence, which in turn means that it must be followed by the conjugated verb. Confusingly, it could also be treated as a time phrase though and also be placed after the conjugated verb, just like “nach”.
Ich esse danach zu Abend.
As a subordinate clause conjunction, “nachdem” must be at the start of the subordinate clause. Even though subordinate clauses usually come after the main clause, they can also be used as an emphasis and be put first, as in my example above. The syntax within the subordinate clause won’t change, though.
Ich esse zu Abend, nachdem der Unterricht beendet ist.
So, what follows from all this? Literal translations from English to German are misleading as they would suggest that the three words could be used in much the same way. I hope the above has shown that this is not the case. I would also suggest a difference in translation.
“Nach” should be translated as “after (something)” where that something represents a noun. “Nachdem” should be thought of as “after doing something, something else happened”. Finally, “danach” should be treated as “afterwards”. Considering the three words in this way makes their grammatical differences and differences in their use clearer.
On our German language blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you'll find posts about many other topics in German grammar, ranging from adjective endings, the difference between "in der Nähe von" and neben, sein vs. ihr, mögen vs. gern vs. gefallen, "denn" vs. "dann", "brauchen" vs. "müssen", so check out our posts.
This article was first published on medium.com