We use context.
Johann Gruber wurde in der Zeit nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg geboren.
Johann Gruber was born in the period after the Second World War.
In dieser Tabelle sind die römischen Kaiser der Zeit nach sortiert.
In this table the Roman emperors are sorted by time.
Mit den neuen Daten können wir das nächste Ereignis wenigstens der Zeit nach vorsagen, aber nicht dem Ort nach.
With the new data, we can predict the next event at least in time, but not in place.
Wenn Umsätze nicht der Zeit nach abgegrenzt werden, verstößt man gegen einen wichtigen Grundsatz der Buchhaltung.
If sales are not accrued over time, you are violating an important accounting principle.
Context is so important when interpreting texts. For example the English sentence "Time flies like an arrow" has at least 9 different meanings:
- Measure the speed of flying insects like you would measure that of an arrow. (You should time flies as you would time an arrow.)
- Measure the speed of flying insects like an arrow would. (You should time flies by the same method that an arrow would use to time them.)
- Measure the speed of flying insects very quickly. (You should time flies as quickly as an arrow moves.)
- Measure the speed only of those flying insects that are similar to arrows. (You should time only those flies that are like an arrow.)
- All individuals of a certain kind of flying insects (the so called “time-flies”) collectively enjoy the same single arrow. (Compare to: "Fruit flies like a banana.")
- Each individual of a certain kind of flying insects (the so called “time-flies”) enjoys its own individual arrow.
- The concept of a period or a duration passes by in a way an arrow would pass by (fast and in one direction).
- The concept of a period or a duration flees (attempts to escape) in a way an arrow would flee.
- A copy of the magazine Time, when thrown, moves in a similar manner to that of an arrow.
And this is a whole sentence! The shorter a phrase is, the more meaning it can have. Single words are often overloaded by dozens of meanings. For example the English word "turn" is listed with more than 50 different meanings in wiktionary (about 30 meanings for the verb and 20 for the noun). You can't expect to have a word with exactly the very same meanings (and no other meanings) in any other language.
This is what translation makes such a hard problem: You can't translate the single words as if they were separated from the rest of the text and then merge the translated words together using the grammar rules of the target language. This attempt will not work.
Here is how good translation really works:
step 1: Read the whole text, and make sure that you fully understand what the author really wanted to express with these words.
step 2: Reproduce the full meaning of the original text by using the vocabulary and grammar of the target language.