Posted by: Jack Henry | April 18, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Once or After?

Which of the following sentences do you think is correct?

  • Please call me once you finish working.
  • Please call me after you finish working.

Trick question. They’re both correct. The word you choose (once or after) depends on how big a hurry you are in to get that phone call. If you want the phone call to occur immediately after you finish working, the correct choice is once. If you just want the phone call to occur sometime after you finish working, the correct choice is after. Once is more urgent.

In both cases, the words are being used as conjunctions. Here are the definitions:

  • once: at the moment when: as soon as
  • after: at a later time than something else happens

Most people use the words interchangeably, and it usually doesn’t make much difference. But since we know the distinction, we can be more precise. Didn’t someone once say that precision is next to godliness? If they didn’t, they should have.

Now, here’s an interesting twist: not only can once and after both be used as conjunctions, they can also both be used as adverbs. But as adverbs, the definitions are not close in meaning, so there’s no chance of accidental misuse:

  • once: one time and no more
  • after: following in time or place

Here are some examples of the adverbs in a sentence:

  • We saw that band perform once.
  • We arrived shortly after the band started playing.

Ah, English. It’s like my crazy uncle Cecile: irregular, inconsistent, and a sometimes a little confusing.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Documentation Services

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