In this edition of Grammar Corner, we discuss some of the most widely used grammar errors in the English language. We don’t just correct you, though; we pinpoint exactly why a particular word/phrase/idiom is used incorrectly, while providing the context for each mistake, and then providing the right word/phrase/idiom.
Most of the time, a grammar error occurs because of homophones. Homophones are two words that sound exactly the same, but mean vastly different things. But it’s not just their meaning that’s different; homophones can also function as vastly different parts of speech.
In this edition, we discuss a common grammar error: then vs. than. Their similarities in both spelling and pronunciation, not to mention their slightly similar (but ultimately different) functions in a sentence, create much confusion around this word pair. However, be thankful that these two words are even slightly different now: back in the middle ages, then and than were spelled exactly the same way; readers and writers just had to figure out the difference using context clues.
Thankfully, modern-day grammarians innovated: the adverb (and sometimes adjective) was given the spelling then, and the conjunction was given the spelling than. However, this hasn’t changed the fact that both novice and experienced writers still get tripped up with this word pair. We’re here to change that.
When to Use Then
As an adverb and sometime-adjective, the word ‘then’ has multiple meanings depending on its function. However, more often than not, the word ‘then’ is used when the sentence is discussing something that is time-related. Here, we’ll explore the different definitions of then along with examples:
I needed help then; I don’t really need it right now. But thanks for the offer, I’m just going to push my car down this 300 mile highway on my own. –Then as referring to something in a particular time.
His tour bus went to Florida, then Arkansas, then Texas, and finally California. Impressive, considering it had no driver! –Then as something that is next in time, space, or order; immediately afterward.
No, you fool! First is the stake through the heart, and then you chop their heads off! Honestly, it’s not like it’s your first time hunting a vampire! –Then as something as is in addition to; moreover; besides.
As mentioned, Then is used as both adverb and adjective, albeit the latter is used sparingly, for example:
My then girlfriend and I decided that it would be best for us to part ways because of our differing views of the future, and not just because she attempted to murder me. –Then as an adjective that describes the condition of something at a specific time.
When to Use Than
In contrast, the word ‘Than’ is a conjunction used when making a comparison between things, events, and many more. For example:
Can you give me a hand? You’re a lot taller than I am and I can’t reach the buzz saw blades that’s in between the ball hammer and the steel spikes.
I know everyone’s in love with Pikachu, but for reals, Popplio is a way better starter pokemon than any of those other jokers!
He started singing “I love you more today than yesterday”, not knowing that Emma had already left the karaoke bar with the Argentinean accordion player.
Than is used when comparing anything, even times. For example:
Hey honey, I’m coming home at 3 rather than 4, so stretch out and
The 18th century was so much better than the 19th.
I know 3rd period Geography sucks, but at least it’s better than 3rd period History, where all those History nerds start debating whether or not one century was better than the rest.
Notice that, despite the sentence having something to do with time, the subject was still about comparing two elements to each other: thus, the proper word to use would have to be THAN.
Which One to Use: Then or Than?
Always remember that when comparing objects, people, places, times, and everything else, use the word THAN. When describing something in relation to time, use THEN.