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Than Versus Then: Timing? Or Comparisons?

Than versus Then: Timing? Or Comparisons?
Written by Amy Sorter

I am sure that by now you have realized that American English is an odd language. It is filled with words that are similar, words that sound alike, and words that have the same spelling but mean different things, it’s overwhelming.

You might be sitting at your computer, creating great content only to have that four-letter word stop you in your tracks. Specifically, “then” or “than.”

Homophone: similar, but not

Homophone: similar, but not

If it’s any consolation, you aren’t the only one to be frustrated by these words. For one thing, they look alike and sound alike. And, from a historic perspective, it wasn’t that long ago when they were treated alike in Middle English.

However, we don’t speak or write Middle English anymore. Plus, there are differences when it comes to using “than” and “then.”

  • Then is used with time-related topics. Think “just then,” “back then” or “every now and then.”
  • Than slips in when demonstrating comparisons. Examples might include “smoother than,” stronger than” or “further than.”

But, there’s more

For instance, “than” can be used to specify an amount that is above or below a certain level. It is also useful for suggesting one possibility, or solution, that might be preferable to another.

For example:

  • “He shouldn’t have to wait more than 24 hours to see a doctor for his illness.”
  • “Her comment was more sarcastic than well-meaning.”

Then again (see what I did?), then IS an adverb, which can be used under the following conditions.

  • Subsequently. “Go to the corner, then take a right.”
  • Consequently. “If you had brushed your teeth properly, then you wouldn’t have gotten cavities.”

Now, for the mnemonic

So, how to remember these two words? “then” and “than” can trip up even the savviest of writers, you can remember the difference. Than is used for comparisons; both boast the letter “a.” And, then and time both have the letter “e.”

“A” or “E?” “Then” or “than?” Though confusing, there are grammatical rules of thumb when it comes to determining the proper use of these words. Read on to learn more. Click To Tweet

About the author

Amy Sorter

Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. Her work has been published in regional and national business and consumer publications. Amy's focus is on creating customized, highly engageable content in a variety of formats for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.

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