Home Guide English Vocabulary How to Use Than and Then

How to Use Than and Then

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Many times people misuse the words "than" and "then." Whether it's because the words are pronounced similarly in some areas or because people simply don't know the difference between them, it is important to know in which situations to choose each word. Follow this guide below, and then you'll be using these words better than anyone you know!

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.  Use-than-as-a-word-indicating-comparison

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.
Use-then-as-a-word-indicating-time

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.

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 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. Now you'll know you want to say You'll never guess what happened to me then!

Recognize incorrect examples and learn from the mistakes.

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

 

 

Tips

  • People tend to misuse then more than than. Than mistakes listed above may look strange or grossly incorrect; however, the then mistakes may seem more acceptable. Pay special attention to then and its uses.
  • The simplest mnemonic is that "then" is a time word equivalent to "when," so they are both spelled with an "e."
  • Another possible mnemonic aid is is that "then" and "time" both have the letter "e" but not the letter "a," and "than" and "comparison" both have the letter "a," but not the letter "e."