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"Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Sunday ruled out any troop withdrawal from the Siachen glacier after last week's avalanche claimed the lives of 10 soldiers."

Is the word "after" used as a preposition or a conjunction here? How to do I determine whether "after" is a conjunction or a preposition? Is there any rule?

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I see it as a preposition. Here’s why:

  1. Subordinating conjunctions function as markers of subordination, whereas preps (inc "after") function as heads of the constituents they introduce.

  2. Unlike subordinating conjunctions, preps have independent meaning ('an evident semantic content'). In the case of "after", it has a temporal meaning.

  3. With items like "after" they uncontroversially occur as preps when they have an NP as complement, and there's no basis for assigning them to different categories according as they take an NP or a clause - or no complement at all.

Trad grammar has:

after the meeting: preposition + noun

after we arrived: subordinating conjunction + sub clause

I didn’t seen her after: adverb, no complement

This is just a matter of varying complementation, which is commonplace.

Compare verbs:

I know her father: verb + NP

I know that he's ill: verb + sub clause

I know: verb without complement

Or nouns:

a belief in God: noun + PP

the belief that God exists: noun + clause

her beliefs: noun without complement

Moreover, in all three constructions, "after" takes the same modifiers, e.g. a short while. We need therefore to distinguish "after" from the subordinators "that/whether", and then once we've done that "after" clearly belongs with all the other preps. For the record, Jespersen argued for treating "after" the same in all three constructions nearly a hundred years ago.

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"after" is a preposition when a noun/noun group/pronoun follows: after the war, after the war between Germany and France, a thief with a policeman running after him.

"after" is conjunction when a clause with subject and predicate follows: After the war had begun people realized that war is no fun.

In the example above after is a conjunction with the clause last week's avalanche claimed the lives of ten soldiers.

  • Spacial 'after' can mean 'behind' or 'beyond', but temporal 'after' means 'later than'. Comparatives, like conjunctions, are adverbial. Temporal 'after' may always be a conjunction, if you can assume the verb 'occur' (or 'be'): They rebuilt after the war [occurred]. – AmI Feb 11 '16 at 0:28
  • @Aml Your view is new to me. Could you give a source where after is seen as a comparative and after the war as a conjunction. – rogermue Feb 11 '16 at 1:40
  • I meant that 'after' and 'later than' are synonymous. They may be stored in different ways but they give the same result. Storing temporal 'after' as a conjunction, even when it links to a topic (noun) rather than an event (verb), is useful in that it triggers the temporal rather than spacial meaning. The source is a demonstration AI. If you said 'They rebuilt after they ended the war.' and later said 'They rebuilt after the war', the brain finds it easier to say 'I know' because it can match 'war' and 'war that they ended'; without also evaluating that 'after' as a possible preposition. – AmI Feb 11 '16 at 20:19
  • Oops - it's not so much about storage than about parsing. If 'after' is always a conjunction (even if no verb) then parsing is simplified. The verbless noun should be abstract, since it denotes an event. Elision of the verb is no different than many other reductions. Just give each word a syntax according to its most complex referent, and all the simpler referents can be expanded to that form. I also hate dictionaries that list words as adverbs or interjections just because we know what they mean in reduced contexts. – AmI Feb 26 '16 at 1:42
  • @AmI "After" seems not to be quite synonymous with "later than" in the example given in the question. The use of "after" indicates (rather indirectly) that the avalanche and the resulting deaths had led some people to expect a troop withdrawal, and that the defence minister was refuting that expectation. I don't think "later than" would have indicated that connection between the two clauses. – Andreas Blass May 11 '16 at 15:58
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"After" is a preposition whose phrase is acting as an adverb, modifying "ruled out".

The only case I can think of offhand where "after" is a conjunction is in phrases like "time after time" or "excuse after excuse".

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