Grammar Bite #16: Use of ‘then’ and ‘than’

13 October 2011

Only two letters make the difference between then and than. Perhaps the reason why people frequently confuse them is that they sound almost the same. To see what I mean read this sentence out loud: I’d rather have chocolate than anything else.


But there are bigger differences between these words than just two little vowels. Let’s take a closer look.

The correct use of then

Most of the time, we use the adverb then to indicate time. There are several different meanings.

·  To mean ‘at that time’ – Life was simpler then.

·  To mean ‘immediately or soon afterward’ – The rain stopped and then started again.

·  To mean ‘next in order of time’ – Please complete the form and then return it to us.

·  To mean ‘at the same time’ – The sky was completely clear, but then it suddenly went dark.

Then can also be used to indicate ‘next in order of place’ – The first person in line is our manager, then his personal assistant, and then his secretary.

Memory Tip:  Since then is most often used to indicate time – think of the question word when (also spelled with an ‘e’).

The correct use of than

The conjunction than can also be used in several ways.

·  To introduce the second item/person of an unequal comparison.

      Mark is taller than his elder brother, Jim.

      That project took longer than we expected it would.

·  To introduce a rejected choice when you’re talking about preferences. For example, I’d rather take a taxi than walk.

·  To mean ‘except’ or ‘other than’. For example, We had no choice than to take the deal.

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