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People frequently trip over then and than, and why shouldn’t they? Since they are so similar in appearance and pronunciation and because both words are linguistic workhorses—then is typically an adverb, while than is typically a conjunction—we typically employ them to join nouns, verbs, and adjectives that are more obviously significant.

The terms then and than rank in the top 100 most used words in English. No wonder they are usually misused because they are somewhat common in spelling. Keep in mind that then  and than are homophones which means that they sound alike but have different meanings.

Keeping the pair straight requires focusing on one basic distinction: than is used when we talk about comparisons while then is used when we talk about time.

When to use than?

Than is a conjunction which is normally used to introduce a comparison. It’s the word that follows smaller, smoother, bigger, fewer, less, older, younger, thus it becomes smaller than, smoother than, bigger than, fewer than, less than, older than, and younger than.

The use of than is highly detailed and it is quite challenging to substitute another word for it in a phrase without altering the meaning.

As we think about how we abbreviate this sentence, He likes bagels more than I or He likes bagels more than me, things get a little risky.

Than is a conjunction, according to traditionalists, and the pronoun in the subordinate phrase should be in the subjective case (I, he, she, we, they): He likes bagels more than I. The sentence structure becomes more effective and accurately to the reader and can finish the sentence in his or her mind. However, than is often used as a preposition in informal communication. The pronouns in the second sentence are in the objective case (me, him, her, them): He likes bagels more than me.

The best bet is to use than I (or than she, then he, then they, than we) in formal speeches and professional settings while than me (along with than him, than her, then them, than us) for informal communication. In this way, you can avoid confusion.

Examples of than in sentences:

  • I am older than my sister
  • Paris is further away than Vatican.
  • Carrots are healthier than junk foods.
  • The Eiffel Tower is more iconic than the Empire State Building.

Than is not easily irreplaceable in a sentence but it can be used in sentences that don’t make direct comparisons.  But in the examples given below, then can be replaced in the sentence:

  • Instead of saying, “You can’t drink if you’re younger than 18”, you can say “You can’t drink if you’re under 18”.
  • Instead of saying, “Miriam is older than you”, you can say “Miriam is over 40”. 

When to use then?

The word then is used after terms like since and until as well as the phrases back then and just then when time is involved. Also, it appears in the phrases and then some, every now and then, and even then.

Then often modifies other adverbs, adjectives, and verbs, and it typically has a relationship with time.

Then can be used in place of “at that time” in a phrase and still make sense grammatically:

  • You need to apologize first, and then you can come back in.
  • You need to apologize first, and at that time you can come back in.

Subsequently or afterwards. These expressions are used to indicate something that follows another promptly, either chronologically or in terms of order:

  • Go up the stairs, then turn right.
  • It was pitch black, then a light shone in the distance.

At that particular time, an expression used to indicate the past.

  • I was very pretty then.
  • We lived in Philadelphia then, before the kids were born.

In the given examples, then is used to express a specific time (future).

  • Steven will drive to the game at 10am, if he can get everything prepared before then.
  • But by then, he may be exhausted.

As a consequence:

  • The police man pulled us over for speeding, then we got a ticket.
  • If you had kept your mouth shut, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Then vs. Than: Remembering the Difference

Focusing on the various letters – “a” and “e” – can help you remember the difference between than and then. Than is employed as a measure of comparison, and both than and comparison has letter “a” in their spellings. The word then is used to refer to time, and both words share the letter “e” in their spellings.

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Leana Jan Candoleta

Leana was an administrative officer in a dialysis center. She has extensive experiences with all administrative tasks, including scheduling, information and billing. Having held positions in the medical and business field, leana is able to tailor her skills to meet the needs of various patients and clients. she has increased her efficiency in her skills and roles and became an effective employee in her company. As a senior Administrative Officer, she has helped the company earn millions when it comes to medical transactions. Leana graduated from West Visayas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Development Communication. After she graduated, she worked as an English Tutor in a Foreign School as her first job. She also served the community for a year and three months wherein she gained more experiences in her career record. She was also a holder of Civil Service License. During her college years, Leana was a member of Gawad Kalinga and Philippine League of Development Communication. After 5 years of working, she decided to shift to another career which is teaching. She took up the course Teacher Certificate Program in Phinma-University of Iloilo. She balanced work, school, social life and a mother. She did this to create a bigger future for herself and for her family. Leana is also a member of a non-government association in Iloilo City wherein her passions and hobbies can be shown off to other group members. Leana is a very passionate and goal-achiever person. She will do anything to be on top and be the best among the rest to reach for her better future. She is now waiting for the Licensure Examination for Teachers and hoping that she will pass it.