How to Use Than and Then

Many times people misuse the words “than” and “then.” Whether this confusion happens because the words are pronounced similarly or because people simply don’t know the difference between the words, it is important to know in which situations to choose each word. As a general rule, use “than” to indicate comparison and “then” to indicate time. Practice both usage and pronunciation, and then you’ll be using these words better than anyone you know!

1.Use than as a word indicating comparison. When you are talking about a noun (thing, person, place or concept) being more, less, better, cooler, dumber, etc. in relation to another noun, the word than is necessary. There are more onions than scallions in your fridge. Scott was sicker than a dog last week.

2. Use then as a word indicating time. When you want to tell about a sequence of events or are giving instructions in a step-by-step order, the word then is necessary.First there were four, and then there were two. Wash the clothes, then put them in the dryer.

3. Pronounce the words differently. Both words contain one gliding vowel, and they are similar. Phonetically speaking, native speakers of English use the schwa (ǝ, kind of like a soft “eh” sound) because it’s more efficient and allows words to be slurred together quickly in daily conversations. Consequently, lots of “a”s and “e”s are not pronounced distinctly.

  • Than is said with the mouth opened widely and the tongue pressed down toward the teeth. The vowel sounds from the back of the mouth and the throat is somewhat constricted.
  • Then is more said with the mouth partially opened. The vowel rises from a relaxed throat and the tongue rests.

4.Test your usage. Ask yourself these questions when you’re writing a sentence:

  • If I write the word “next” instead of “then,” will the sentence still make sense?
    • “I will go to the store next” makes sense, so here we would say “I will go to the store then.”
    • “I like apples better next papayas” makes no sense. So we must be looking for “I like apples better than papayas.”
  • If I write the phrase “in comparison to” instead of the word “than,” will the sentence still make sense?
    • “It costs more in comparison to a new car” makes sense, so you’d want to say “It costs more than a new car.”
    • “You’ll never guess what happened to me in comparison to” does not make sense at all. Therefore, you will want to say “You’ll never guess what happened to me then!”

5.Recognize incorrect examples and learn from the mistakes.

  • Wrong: I’m a better speller then you! (comparison: than)
  • Wrong: I feel that astrophysics is less interesting then horticulture. (comparison: than)
  • Wrong: She is going to stop to get snacks, than we’ll go to the library together. (sequence: then)
  • Wrong: Our parentsused to go out to eat every now and than. (time: then)
  • Right: Learn grammar rules. Then you will be smarter than your average bear.

6.Pay attention to grammar check. Word processing software (such as Microsoft Word) often has a built-in grammar check that will highlight incorrect usage. If your word processor underlines or highlights the word “then” or “than,” you may have chosen the wrong word. Re-read your sentence and make sure that you’ve chosen the correct spelling.

7. Practice frequently. Pay attention when you write essays or letters. Use instant messages, e-mails and text messages to practice your good spelling skills (rather than as an opportunity to neglect them). You never know when you’ll have to use one of those communication methods for something important!


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Note: This article has been adapted from the following source.

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