Than or Then?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Than" and "Then"?

"Than" and "then" are easy to confuse, especially if you're an English learner.
  • "Than" is used to introduce a comparison. For example:
    • She was smarter than you. correct tick
    • ("Than" is used with a comparison.)
  • "Then" relates to time. For example:
    • I was fitter then. correct tick
    • (Here, "then" relates to a past time.)
    • Run to the lake then jump in. correct tick
    • (Here, "then" relates to a future time.)
  • "Then" means "in that case." For example:
    • If you're not happy, then leave. correct tick
    • (Here, "then" means "in that case.")
than or then?

More about "Than" and "Then"

"Then" and "than" are common words, and your readers will expect you to use the right one.

Than

"Than" introduces a comparison. It is most often seen with comparatives and words like "more," "less," and "fewer."
  • Craig is smarter than Paul. correct tick
  • ("Smarter" is a comparative.)
  • Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.correct tick (Actor Woody Allen)
  • ("Better" is a comparative.)
  • Russia is even more spacious than Canada. correct tick
  • ("More spacious" is a comparative.)
  • I have less space than you, but I also have fewer workers than you. correct tick

Then

"Then" usually relates to time. It is most commonly used as an adverb. "Then" has three meanings:

(1) Subsequently or afterwards
  • Go to the traffic lights, then turn right. correct tick
  • It went dark, then there was a scream. correct tick
  • The council members argued for three days then eventually came to a decision. correct tick
(2) As a consequence or in that case.
  • If you had cleaned your teeth properly, then you wouldn't be in this predicament.correct tick
  • You're certain then? correct tick
  • If that's how you feel, let it go then. correct tick
(3) At that time or that time.
  • I was much fitter back then. correct tick
  • She used to holiday in Sri Lanka as it was then known. correct tick
  • The schedule will be completed before then. correct tick
  • It was the responsibility of the then team captain to account for the trophies in the cabinet. correct tick
  • (In this example, "then" is an adjective.)

It's a Bad Mistake for a Native Speaker

Non-native English speakers are particularly prone to confusing "than" and "then." A native English speaker confusing these words constitutes a grammatical howler.

Comparisons Involving Time

Comparisons involving time tend to attract this error. Remember to use "than" for comparisons, including those involving time.
  • Winter is later then autumn. wrong cross
  • Winter is later than autumn. correct tick

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? More than I or more than me? What are adjectives? What are adverbs? More on comparatives (from adjectives) More on comparatives (from adverbs) List of easily confused words

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