Comparing "yihou" "ranhou" "houlai"
以后 (yǐhòu) and 然后 (ránhòu) can both mean "and then," but their usage is fairly different. While both 以后 (yǐhòu) and 后来 (hòulái) can mean "later," they have distinct uses.
然后 as "and then"
然后 is a conjunction, which is always used in a sequence. It is often used with 先 (xiān, meaning "first"). 以后 or 后来 can't be used this way.
- 我们 先 复习 一下 ，然后 上 新 课 。Let's do some reviewing first and then learn a new lesson.
- 我们 先 复习 一下 ，以后 上 新 课 。Let's do some reviewing first and then learn a new lesson.
- 我 打算 先 住 朋友家 ，以后 找 房子 。My plan is to stay at my friend's friend, and then find a place to live.
- 我们 下周 去 北京 出差 ，以后 去 欧洲 度假 。We're going to Beijing on a business trip and then we go to Europe on vacation.
然后 without 先
- 我们 在 楼下 见 ，然后 一起 走 。We'll meet downstairs and then we go together.
- 宝宝 醒了 ，哭 了 一会儿 ，然后 又 睡着 了 。The baby woke up. He cried for a little while and then fell asleep again.
- 中国 是 人口 最多 的 发展中 国家 ，然后 是 印度 。China is the biggest developing country and then it's India.
Usage of 以后
以后 as "In the Future"
以后 is a time noun, which can be used to talk about things that happen at some unspecified point in the future while 然后 and 后来 can't be used this way.
A few examples:
- 我 以后 想 开 公司 。I want to start up my own business in the future.
- 请 你 以后 别 来 了 。Please stop coming in the future.
以后 as "After"
Note that the time can be specific (like a date or time) or broad (like an event, action, or occurrence).
A few examples:
- 我 一 个 小时 以后 回来 。 I will come back in an hour.
- 毕业 以后 他 出国 了 。He went abroad after he graduated.
后来 as "Afterwards"
后来 is used to sequence two events that have already occurred. It is the Chinese equivalent of the English word "afterward."
Also note that 后来 is a time noun, and it can only be used on its own.
[Past Event 1] ，后来 + [Past Event 2]
- 他 在 我们 公司 干 过 两年 ，后来 跳槽 了 。He worked for our company for two years. And then he jumped ship.
- 后来 他 去 了 美国 ，然后 他 的 父母 也 搬 过去 了 。He moved to the US later. And then his parents also moved over there.
- 他们 大学 的时候 在一起 过 ，以后 分手了 。 They were together in college. They broke up later on.
- A: 我 先 去 你 家 ，然后 我们 一起 去 见 她 。I'll go to your house first, then we can go together to see her.
- B: 好的 。她 出国 以后 你们 见过面 吗 ？Sure. Have you seen each other since she went abroad?
- A: 见 过 一次 ，后来 再也 没见过 。She left the country two years ago. I haven't seen her since then.
- In the future in general
- Sequencing past events with "houlai"
- After a specific time
- Comparing "houlai" and "ranhou"
Sources and further reading
- 对外汉语教学语法释疑201例 (pp. 5) [ →buy]
- 对外汉语教学语法释疑201例 (pp. 7) [ →buy]
- 现代汉语八百词（增订本） (pp. 461) [ →buy]
- 现代汉语八百词（增订本） (pp. 614) [ →buy]
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 268) →buy
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 26 - 27) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (pp. 294) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 267) →buy