Word Confusion: Than versus Then

Posted June 1, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 29 September 2017

I find myself checking my wording with this one often enough. Just remember…

than compares or contrasts

then is time,
sometimes existential,
sometimes historical.

Don’t worry about the conjunction–preposition differences. The only truly important difference is that between than or then.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Than Then
Credit to: Dictionary.com than and then; Diffen.com;

Movie poster for a flick titled Stronger than Desire

“‘Stronger Than Desire’ Lobby Card” by MGM via an eBay card is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I think of how much I can desire chocolate…well, what could be stronger?

A BLT sandwich laid out on two slices of bread before being put together

“Making a BLT Sandwich with Avocado and Basil Mayonnaise” by Joy is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Making Joy’s BLT involves lettuce on the bottom of the top slice of bread followed by slices of tomato, then on the bottom slice, spread a sweet basil-avocado mayonnaise, and then add slices of bacon.

Part of Grammar:
Conjunction; Preposition Adjective 1; Adverb 1; Noun 2
Introduces an exception or contrast Use in relation to time and the order in which events occur

Diffen.com suggests an easy mnemonic: then rhymes with when

Connects two clauses or phrases

Use in formal English with an unexpressed verb

Use in expressions indicating one thing happening immediately after another

Use in everyday speech or writing using the object pronoun

In comparison with
Being, being such, existing or being at the time indicated

At that time, at the time in question, at the same time

After that, next, afterward

In that case, therefore

  • Used at the end of a sentence to emphasize an inference being drawn
  • Used to finish off a conversation

That time

Jack doesn’t know anymore than I.

He does public speaking far better than I.

They observe rather than act.

That’s easier said than done.

Scarcely was the work completed than it was abandoned.

She thought it possible that George was more than uncomfortable with the situation.

His hair was different than she remembered.

He was much smaller than his son.

He claims not to own anything other than his home.

Other than that, the work is finished.

Yes, you are older than me.

She was thinner than me!

…the then prime minister

George Bush, the then president, went to war after 9/11.

I got smarter, but by then I was also older.

We bought the land and then built the house.

She made up her mind then and there.

It simply didn’t feel right — not then or now.

His heated gaze met hers and then drifted to her lips.

We have not been back since then.

The horse bunched up under him then.

When we get home, young man, then I’ll punish you.

History of the Word:
First known use: 1700s, before then it was the same word as then. Old English than(ne), thon(ne), thænne was originally the same word as then.

1 First known use: 1500s

2 First known use: 1300s

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits

A graphic from a post on “Ten Common Misused English Words Among English Language Learners” from the Interactive-ESL blog. (This blog is no longer active.)