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Chinese Grammar: 后来 vs 然后

Lupishu’s proud of the progress he’s been making and loves retelling the events in his life, especially the milestones he’s reached so far. But, he’s a little confused. To say “after”, he has two-time words in mind: 后来 (hòu lái) and 然后 (rán hòu), and he’s not sure when he should use which. That’s understandable: 后来 and 然后 can seem very close. They both mean “after, afterward”, so it’s not easy to figure out the difference between the two at first.

后来 and 然后 are two very different words, however, so let’s see on what occasions you should be using each! That way, after, you and Lupishu can easily pick when you want to say 后来 or 然后!

后来 for events in the past

后来 is a time word to describe things that happened in the past, which has a certain outcome at present. It means “afterward” and is used to talk about the consequences and outcome of an event in the past.


Something, 后来, Outcome


汉语后来 中国
He went to China after learning Chinese.

除了 后来 没有 爱上 任何
After her, he couldn’t fall in love with anyone anymore.

听说 考上 大学后来再也 没有
I heard that he went to college, afterward, no one saw him anymore.

然后 to describe a sequence of actions

然后 is to used to describe something that will happen next. It always follows a previous event. You do one thing first and then do another with 然后. It is used a lot to show the passing of time, and you’ll often run into texts describing a sequence of events, like a story, or instructions... In English, 然后 is similar to (first...) then... and in fact, you’ll often run into it in Chinese in combination with (xiān, first) in a sentence.


Event 1, 然后 + Event 2


I brush my teeth first and then wash my face.

然后 作业
I eat first and then do my homework.

学校然后学习 汉语
He went to school and then studied Chinese [there].

Ready to put this new knowledge to the test? Let's see if you can tell which word is needed to make the sentences right in Yocha's sentence-building stage!

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