Comparing "yihou" and "de shihou"
When talking about when something happens, 以后 (yǐhòu) and 的时候 (de shíhou) are often used. They can both be translated as the English word "when," but their usage in Chinese must be kept straight.
以后 and 的时候 both appear in the same place in the sentence: after the verb.
Subj. + Verb + 以后／的时候，⋯⋯
The difference comes in what they actually mean.
Use 以后 for "After"
以后 technically means after, so it is used after the action is completed. This can be seen as a way of saying "When you are done (verb)ing." This might seem obvious, but in the following sentences, we could use "when" in English for every single one.
- 下 飞机 以后 给 我 打电话 。 Give me a call after you get off the plane.
- 来 中国 以后 我 才 发现 中国 菜 那么 好吃 。 Only when I got to China did I realize how tasty Chinese food is.
- 毕业 以后 我 打算 去 上海 工作 。I plan to find a job in Shanghai after I graduate.
- 结婚 以后 你 想 继续 工作 吗 ？Do you want to keep working after you get married?
Use 的时候 for "During" or "While"
的时候 means "when" in the sense of during an action. For example, "when you play ball" can be seen as "when you are playing ball." It is this sort of difference that can make 以后 and 的时候 slightly confusing at times.
- 吃饭 的时候 看 电视 容易 长 胖 。 It's easy to get fat if you eat while you watch TV.
- 工作 的时候 不要 上网 聊天 。Don't chat online when you're at work.
- 无聊 的时候 可以 做 些 什么 ？What can you do when you're bored?
的时候 is also similar to using the 一边 structure. However, 一边 uses two conscious actions that you do, whereas "的时候" can be used for "mindless" activities (like watching TV) or unexpected situations.
There are instances where both 以后 and 的时候 could work and still mean the same thing. These are times when there isn't really a duration, it just happens in an instant. For example, "when you see her." This means, "as soon as you see her," as there is only one point where you first see a person. In this case, you can use either one.
- 雨 停 了 的时候，我们 就 去 公园 玩。When it stops raining, we'll go play in the park.
- 雨 停 了 以后，我们 就 去 公园 玩。When it stops raining, we'll go play in the park.
- 商店 关门 的 时候，你 再 来 找 我。Come to find me when the shop is closed.
- 商店 关门 了 以后，你 再 来 找 我。 Come to find me when the shop is closed.
- After a specific time
- At the time when
- Simultaneous tasks with "yibian"
- Comparing "yihou" and "zhihou"
Sources and further reading