Grammar-ease: Then versus than

Last week’s post on the difference between “lay” and “lie” garnered a couple of suggestions for grammar topics, so here’s one: how to know when to use “then” and when to use “than.”

The two words can sound alike when used in conversation, which, I think, leads to most of the confusion.

Do you know which of these 2 sentences is correct?

  • A. You reacted a lot more calmly then I would have.
  • B. You reacted a lot more calmly than I would have.

How about which of these 2 sentences is correct?

  • A. Apples are bigger then grapes.
  • B. Apples are bigger than grapes.

And one more set. Which of these 2 sentences is correct?

  • A. I bought a dress at Macy’s and then went to JC Penney’s for shoes.
  • B. I bought a dress at Macy’s and than went to JC Penney’s for shoes.

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

  • I washed the dishes, and then I dried the dishes, and then I put the dishes away.
  • Finish your homework, then you can go out to play.
  • The kitten tangled himself in the yarn, then jumped in the box.
  • Once upon a time, boy met girl, fell in love, and then lived happily ever after.
  • Until then, let’s stay where we are.

Than is a comparison word.

  • I would rather watch this movie than exercise.
  • Lilacs are more aromatic to me than lilies.
  • Rather than walking on the beach, how about we cycle up the seacoast?
  • Five is more than four.
  • Cats are more independent than dogs.
  • His writing is more formal than mine.

*Here’s a trick if you need a little more help:

When I need to pause to figure out usage as I’m writing, I remember “rather than,” because that turn of phrase sticks in my head and I know ‘than’ is to compare one thing to another. Or the phrase “and then and then and then” which I hear in my mind as a teenage girl’s voice telling me about her day, and it triggers ‘sequence’ for me.

**Or here’s another trick:

“Then” relates to “time” (both have an ‘e’). “Than” is a “comparison” (both have an ‘a’).

Did any of these suggestions help cement the different between then and than for you?

(Answers to the 3 pairings: B, B, A)

What other grammar topics would you like help with? Let me know in the comments!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer, editor, journalist, and chocolate lover. She loves working with words and helps businesses with theirs. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

9 thoughts on “Grammar-ease: Then versus than

  1. Pingback: A network for writers… thought this might be of interest | Terra Ann Spencer

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