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You could say “avant de sortir” and that would be normal enough, but I went to say “après de sortir” and realized it sounded wrong, but so did “après sortir.” How should that be said? E.g. “on paie après de sortir.” And why does avant use de but apres does not, when the construction is similar ?

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Avant and Après actually aren't symmetrical, après behaves a little differently.

You can only say "Après [quelque chose*]" or "Après que [sujet + verbe]".

The "quelque chose*" being a nominal group (noun + determinant) or verbal group (at infinitive). So your sentence would be:

On paie après être sortis.

With more complex groups:

On est partis après avoir mangé notre sandwich.

Il est sorti après nous avoir salué.

Using Après que is a little bit trickier, because it must be followed by indicative but the vast majority of people use subjunctive instead (because you should use subjunctive with "Avant que", as the action is not completed so it's still hypothetical).

So you should say:

Il est parti après qu'il a payé.

But you might hear:

Il est parti après qu'il ait payé.

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    Also, "qu'il a payé" is incorrect. The correct conjugation is subjonctive past, which is "qu'il ait payé". Another acceptable (but antiquated, or too formal for most situations) conjugation is "subjonctif plus-que-parfait" "qu'il eût payé". "Subjonctif imparfait" is similar with "qu'il payât". – Drunken Code Monkey Apr 30 '18 at 15:29
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    @DrunkenCodeMonkey You must be part of the "vast majority" I referred to :) Look it up, indicative is the correct mode. – Teleporting Goat Apr 30 '18 at 15:30
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    "Les factures qu'il a payées"* - About subjunctive after "Après que", I'll admit that very few people use indicative (I don't even use it orally, people often think you're wrong), but it's the correct way to say it, so I think I should present it as such. – Teleporting Goat Apr 30 '18 at 15:44
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    @DrunkenCodeMonkey Après qu'il eût payé is as incorrect as après qu'il ait payé. That should be après qu'il eut payé or après qu'il a payé, despite for the latter to hurt that bad French ears... and the past participle never agrees with the subject when avoir is used as an auxiliary. See projet-voltaire.fr/regles-orthographe/… – jlliagre Apr 30 '18 at 16:13
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    Concerning the mood in the “après que” subordinate (which is somewhat off-topic here), you'd better read the answers to this question. french.stackexchange.com/questions/11/… – Stéphane Gimenez Oct 29 '18 at 19:14
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Yes, après de sortir is incorrect while avant de sortir is not. The de is almost always mandatory between avant and an infinitive.

Historically, French started by using no preposition between avant and an infinitive, e.g.:

...avant faire...

This still exists is set expressions like avant faire droit, avant manger.

Then que was used :

Faut-il toutefois vaincre avant que triompher, Corneille.

Mais avant que partir, je me ferais justice, Racine.

Then a de was appended:

Avant que de songer à condamer les gens, Molière

and finally, in the 18th century, the que was dropped and the modern form emerged:

...avant de faire...

On the other hand, après doesn't need or accept this de and in your case we would use:

après être sortis

Source: gabrielwyler, Grevisse

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