SOS English: than & then

The words “than” and “then” are often misused. It’s a common mistake, partly because the words are pronounced similarly, or in some cases because you just don’t know the difference. However, it is crucial to understand how one would use each word, especially in academic or business writing. Here we explain the differences between these two words so that no more mistakes can creep in in the future.

Than (for making comparisons)

When you make a comparison (in sentences or statements), be it a size comparison, price comparison, numbers, etc. you always use the word “than.” This word works both as a conjunction, as in “he is taller than I am,” and as a preposition, “he is taller than me.” 

She is a more talented cook than I am.
He is a better person than I will ever be.
We’ll have a higher income than last year.
I don’t think they’ll be faster than us.
He’s getting there sooner than you are.

πŸ’‘ Both “than” and “comparison” have the letter “A” in them.

πŸ’‘ How to test: Replace “than” with “compared to” (the sentence should still make sense.)

Then (when time is involved)

“Then” indicates a specific time or period of time in the past, present, or in the future. It is also used in connection with a series of events. “Then” works as an adverb (“I lived in Canada back then”), as a noun (“He’ll stay there until then”), and as an adjective (“the then headmaster of my school”). 

I worked as a bartender back then.
If he finishes work early, then he’ll come to our party.
This morning, he got up, put on his morning robe, and then made himself some breakfast in the kitchen.

(She’s still looking for a new job.) Until then, she’ll stay at her current company.
It will be finished before then.
Let us meet there and then.

I met my then highschool sweetheart again.
The then CEO of the company has recently found a new startup.
Our then house in Arkansas was torn down and replaced by an apartment complex.

πŸ’‘ ThenΒ –> WhenΒ (“when” asks for a specific time, which can be answered with “then”)Β 

πŸ’‘ How to test: Replace “then” with “next” (the sentence should, most of the time, still make sense.)