Write Your Way

Grammar-ease: Using ‘than’ and ‘then’

I’ve done quite a few double-takes in reading the past few months over two words that sound similar, look similar, yet have quite different meanings: than and then.

Than is used for comparisons; then is used for sequences in time.

picture showing difference between than and then

For example, which term is correct in each of the following?

  • I have a lot less office space than/then you.
  • She was much skinnier back than/then.
  • You reacted a lot more rationally than/then I would have.
  • Pumpkins tend to be bigger than/then plums.
  • Summer is later than/then spring.

(Answers: than, then, than, than, then)

Than is a comparison word.

  • I would rather get outside than watch TV.
  • Her reports are filled with more errors than mine.
  • He prefers fresh flowers from his garden more than fancy arrangements from a florist.
  • How about jogging rather than walking today?
  • Twenty is much less than a thousand.
  • Dogs need a lot more attention than cats.

Then refers to sequences in time. It tells when something happened.

  • He rinsed the dishes, then dried them, and then put them away.
  • Finish studying for your test, then you can go out to play.
  • I booked my flight, then checked my calendar and found a conflict.
  • Her son ran into the house with muddy shoes, then looked back and saw the mess.
  • Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, and then they live happily ever after.
  • Until then, stay where you are.

A couple of tricks that may help:

  • Remember the phrase “rather than,” as it emphasizes that ‘than’ is used to compare one thing to another. Or the phrase “and then and then and then” (which is a familiar way for kids to tell a story), and it can trigger ‘sequence’.
  • “Then” relates to “time” (both words have an ‘e’). “Than” is a “comparison” (both words have an ‘a’).

Was this helpful? Search for these terms in your work-in-progress and see if you find any issues.

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