All about Japanese 後 (“ato, “go”, “kou”): “after”

By | June 5, 2015

This time I’m going to talk about the Japanese word 後 (“あと”), as well as compounds which contain 後, where it can be pronounced “あと”, “ご”, or “こう”.

I’ll start off with a useful phrase – “後で”. This matches pretty closely to English’s “later” and refers to the future in a vague sense.

  • 後でブログを読んでね。
  • Check out my blog later.

Another one is “後にして”, which literally means “make it later”. Honestly I haven’t heard this in real use too much, but I remember seeing a drama where a teenage boy told his younger friend he was busy with something by using this phrase. It had a 偉そう (high and mighty) feel to it. Here’s a similar example conversation:

  • P1: ね、掃除を手伝ってくれる?
  • P1: Hey, would you mind helping me out with cleaning?
  • P2: 今忙しいんだ。後にして。
  • P2: I’m busy. Not now.

後 also can be used to mean the remaining amount of something, similar to ”残り” (nokori)

  • 後10分だよ!
  • Only 10 minutes left!
  • 後は?
  • What else?

In a related sense, it can be used to mean “also”, like when giving a list of items.

  • フルーツはバナナとリンゴが好き。後は。。。いちごも好き。
  •  As for fruits, I like bananas and apples. Also… strawberries too.

“ato” can also be used in a spacial sense to mean “after”, for example in the following sentence.

  • 犬は彼の後について行った。
  • The dog followed after him.

If we place it after a verb in the past tense, it refers to after that action happened.

  • 映画が終わった後、帰った。
  • I went home after the movie ended.

Similarly, we can use it as a suffix that goes after another word to mean “after that time”. Here it is pronounced “go”.

  • 帰宅後 (kitakugo) – after coming home
  • 購入後 (kounyuugo) – after purchase
  • 部活後 (bukatsugo) – after a club activity

In the same way, we can add it after a word expressing a period of time to mean after that time has passed.

  • 一時間後 – one hour later, in an hour
  • 1分後 – one minute later, in a minute

There are a great many compounds containing 後. Here are just a few.

  • 後片付け (atokataduke) – cleanup after something
  • 後書き (atogaki) – afterwords (like at the end of a book)
  • 後頭部 (koutoubu) – back of head
  • 後遺症 (kouishou) – aftereffect (of a disease)
  • 食後 (shokugo) – after a meal

Advanced Note:

In the above example sentence (“映画が終わった後、帰った”), I could of added the particle に after 後, forming 後に, and there wouldn’t be any change in meaning. Adding で here sounds a little strange, but it is difficult to explain why.

Here is a webpage in Japanese which attempts to explain the difference between に and で in this context, but it’s pretty hard to follow:

I think to be safe, you can just use 後 when it is used before the verb (ex: “後で食べる) and に when it is after a verb (食べた後に). Make sure the verb is past tense, since”食べる後” is incorrect.

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