Not the Grammar Police #2

by Sophie Dawson

What’s the difference between then and than? Listen to people talking or read a hand written note sometime and you’ll invariably see these two words mixed up eventually. When proofreading, I see them confused many times.

Then gives a connotation of time or place. The other than is a comparison. Seems pretty simple and straight forward doesn’t it? Unfortunately, these two words are some of the most commonly misused I’ve seen lately. The other is sit, sat and set but I’ll deal with those usages in another post.

Think about the word then. We did this, and then we did that. Something proceeded the action now being described. There’s a time element involved.

Next in order of time or placement uses the word then also. Think about a receiving line at a wedding. First, you have the bride and groom. After them, stand their parents. Other members of the bridal party stand next to them. So if you were describing the order you’d use the word then.

John and Mary, then her parents, Fred and Wilma, then Ben and Kate, etc. You get the picture.

So, the use of then denotes order as in time or placement.

Than isn’t about time or place order. It’s about comparing. This is larger than that. Or longer, shorter, bigger, smaller, redder, bluer. You name it there will be at least two things, concepts, or whatever being compared. That ball is bigger than this one.

Comparisons, be they of items or concepts, indicate the need for  using than. Then can even be used when rejecting said object or concept.

I’d rather have water than coffee.

We had no option other than to leave.

 See how simple it is? If a time or placement element is involved the word then needs to be used. If it’s a comparison use the word than. When you break it down into the simple ideas of time and placement or comparisons the difference between then and than becomes clear and choosing which to use is easy.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts on easy, proper word usage.

Sophie Dawson is an award winning author of Christian Historical Fiction. She has two series comprised of seven books with her newest coming out in February 2017. She’s contributed to several different blogs on a continuing basis. You can find her books in Kindle, print and large print as well as audio on Amazon. Future works may branch out into Contemporary and Science Fiction.


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