Then and Than: Which is which?

English is a great language, if you want to be confused! (We joke!) So many words are so similar, which can make it particularly difficult for non-native (and sometimes even native) speakers to learn. Take then and than, for instance.

Then and than are two of the most commonly confused English words- even for native speakers!! I see this all the time, even in published articles from reliable (trustworthy, safe, generally correct) sources online. These two words can be confusing because they’re only one letter apart (only one letter is different in them), and autocorrect won’t pick up on them (notice if it’s wrong), since even if you’ve typed the wrong one to use in your sentence, the word is still spelled correctly in the eyes of autocorrect. Understand what I mean?

Never fear, Bespeaking is here!

Here’s the difference between then and than and when to use them.

Then

Then has a few different uses, but most of the time it functions as an adjective or adverb. However, one of the key giveaways that you should use then is that it usually situates an event on a timeline.

For example:

  • The decision was made by then-CEO Steve Jobs. (Steve Jobs is no longer CEO, but this decision was made by him when he was- back “then”.)
  • Every morning I wake up, take a shower, and then have a cup of coffee. (I’m situating my routine in time – first I wake up, second I take a shower, third I have coffee.)
  • Come over after 4pm. I’ll be home then. (I will be home after 4, but not beforehand.)

Then can also be used in the following ways:

Meaning “in that case” or “accordingly”

For example:

  • If it’s too snowy, then my flight will be cancelled. (My flight could be cancelled because of the snow.)
  • If you are going to the market, then you can buy milk. (In the case that you go to the store, …)

Meaning “in addition”

For example:

  • The books are $20, and then there is sales tax on top. (You need to pay $20, and in addition you need to pay sales tax.)
  • Take the lasagna out of the oven, then sprinkle a bit of cheese on top. (You need additional cheese to sprinkle over the lasagna after baking.)

Than

The meaning of than is quite simple in comparison to the meaning of then.

Than is simply used when you are comparing two things. There is no other word you can use to replace it (i.e.: it has no synonyms)! It’s truly unique.

For example:

  • Your breakfast looks better than mine.
  • I am taller than he is.
  • Two is less than three.
  • My cat is fatter than my neighbor’s cat.

See the difference? It’s easy once you know how to use it!

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Can you use then and than in a sentence? Give it a try in the comments below!

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Looking for grammar? Try Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs, when to use Which and ThatOrder of AdjectivesIts vs It’s, and Present Continuous tense!

Erin Duffin lived in Berlin and THEN in Hamburg, became an English teacher, THEN a blogger, but has always been a yoga instructor. She couldn’t begin to compare these jobs because she loves them all just the same- that means, no role more THAN the other. 

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