Actual meaning of 'After all'



According to the Cambridge Dictionary, after all means:

  1. despite earlier problems or doubts:
    The rain has stopped, so the game will go ahead after all.

What's the problem here, raining? Am I correct to think that "after all" means 'ultimately" here because the rain has stopped?

  1. used to add information that shows that what you have just said is true:
    I do like her - after all, she is my sister.

Does 'after all' mean 'because' here? Why do we need to use 'after all' here in this sentence?

According to the Macmillan Dictionary, after all also means:

  1. used for saying that something is true despite what was said or planned before
    Maybe she was right after all.
    I'm sorry, but we’ve decided not to come after all.

  2. used when giving a reason to explain what you have just said
    She shouldn’t be working so hard – she is 70, after all.
    I’m not really ambitious. After all, money isn’t everything.

I don't understand what 'after all' exactly means in both of these usages in the sentences above. Does it mean 'ultimately' or what ?

Could you please illuminate my confusion about what 'after all' actually means?

Note: I have also read How to Grammatically Discern "after all", Phrase? but It wasn't helpful for me for this question


Posted 2016-11-06T06:20:14.183

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Great question, Yubraj. The dictionary answers that you referenced above are correct but delivered in a way that is rather difficult for even native speakers to understand.

Quite simply, "after all" is used to show that something is true or happened despite reasons to believe otherwise. It's a cue to tell the reader about an idea/action continuing despite something else.

To address your examples above:

  1. "The rain has stopped, so the game will go ahead after all." → We might have expected that the game would be cancelled because of the rain. Instead, it's going to continue.
  2. "I do like her - after all, she is my sister." → There may have been a question about whether I like my sister. At the end of the day, however, I must like her because she is my sister.
  3. "Maybe she was right after all." → I didn't believe that she was right before, but now I think that I was wrong about her.
  4. "I'm sorry, but we’ve decided not to come after all." → We intended to be there, but something changed and we are not going to attend.

Now there's another usage which the Macmillan Dictionary captured in the two examples below. In this usage, the intention is to emphasize a point by adding an additional reason.

  1. "She shouldn’t be working so hard – she is 70, after all." → She shouldn't be working so hard, especially considering that she is so old.
  2. "I’m not really ambitious. After all, money isn’t everything." → I don't need to be ambitious, especially when there are other priorities in life. (This writer is equating ambition with money.)

I hope that this helps. Feel free to ask any follow-up questions and I'll do my best to respond.


Posted 2016-11-06T06:20:14.183

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3Great answer to a great question. Just a comment on #1, though: I'd probably word it a little more strongly. That is, it's not just that we "might have expected the game would be postponed", but more like we "expected that the game would probably be postponed." We'd only add after all to a sentence like that one if the rain had been falling very hard and we had some serious doubts the game would be able to continue. – J.R. – 2016-11-06T08:09:59.137

3I would consider your second example sentence ("after all, she is my sister") to be an example of the latter usage (additional reason). Of course, there's no reason it can't be interpreted as either, or both -- after all (see what I did there), these meanings are not distinct and isolated, but parts of a continuum. (I'm also amused by your apt choice of the idiom "at the end of the day", which, AFAIK, rather closely mirrors the original historical meaning of "after all" in the second sense, i.e. "when all relevant issues have been considered, what matters most is that...".) – Ilmari Karonen – 2016-11-06T11:20:25.350

Is "after all' phrase or idiom or what ? – yubraj – 2016-11-06T11:24:04.103

@endopthecode, What about 'ultimately' in my question ? Can I replace 'after all' with ,'ultimately' ? – yubraj – 2016-11-06T12:14:28.443

5@yubrajsharma I have always treated "after all" as a short hand for "after all things were accounted for." See also the idiom "after all is said and done." – Cort Ammon – 2016-11-06T23:30:33.303

1@yubrajsharma, you could use "ultimately" in place of "after all" but it would be more formal. This is just my view, but I hear a sort of genuine reflectiveness in "after all" while "ultimately" is far more logical. If someone wrote "I'm sorry, but we’ve ultimately decided not to come." I might be less inclined to assume that there was a good reason for it. "After all," in the first usage, almost conveys the sense that the speaker is letting out a sigh. – EnglishTeacherEric – 2016-11-07T03:32:15.083

J.R. What does "after all" mean in this particular (and also popular) sentence : "We are human after all." – AmirhoseinRiazi – 2018-07-31T22:27:09.297

JR, this is a common expression which typically means "We all make mistakes" or "We can't do everything," although it could have other meanings around the idea of acknowledging our own limitations. "I'm only human" is often used defensively in arguments in a similar way. In this case, the "after all" is acceptable to include, but it's not fully necessary for conveying the meaning. – EnglishTeacherEric – 2018-08-02T04:49:10.610


I believe 'After all' to be a shortening of 'After all things have been considered'. In the examples given, "I'm sorry, but we've decided not to come after all" is "I'm sorry, but we've decided not to come after all things have been considered" so after they have looked at everything going on and considered them, they have decided not to come.


Posted 2016-11-06T06:20:14.183

Reputation: 71

I think this is a useful and helpful way to look at the idiom after all, and also that this doesn't quite answer the question directly. – Todd Wilcox – 2016-11-06T14:59:14.987

@magiccloly I got it, But What about other meanings explained in the both dictionery I've quoted in my question? Your Edited answer would be helpfull to all other English Learners including me. Thanks – yubraj – 2016-11-06T15:19:40.823

I think 'after all' means just like 'Anyway'. – yubraj – 2016-11-07T13:16:23.083


it just means "in the end" or "after all things are considered". beware of over-analysis! :)

there's a big difference between "dictionary meaning" and usage. so "after all" does indeed mean ultimately (in the end), but it can be used to convey additional meaning, like surprise or contrast or whatever.


Posted 2016-11-06T06:20:14.183

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