Grammarland: Then vs Than

It’s Writer Wednesday here and today we will tackle a mini grammar concept – the difference between then and than. These writing themed posts used to be the weekly mainstay of my other blog, My Literary Quest, but will now be hosted here and reblogged there.

Comic Originally posted at The Oatmeal

Comic Originally posted at The Oatmeal as part of the “Ten Words you need to Stop Misspelling” infographic

Then can be used as three different parts of speech, which is probably why it gets mixed up so often with than. The main use of then is as an adverb, specifically to situate an action in time. For example,  she attended English class and then went to lunch. It’s also part of the if … then construction –If you clean your room, then I will tell you my secret.

Then can also be used as a noun meaning that time. (e.g., “I wanted to scream, but then was not the time.” To me this sounds a bit clunky and dated, but it’s a valid use.

The last use of then is as an adjective, meaning at that time. This usage is the most awkward of all, but I have seen it used at times. Her then apartment was full of ants.

Of note – both of the last two uses of then are passive voice. If you catch yourself using them in fiction you might want to carefully consider if that’s your best option.

Everyone still following along? Great! Moving on to than.

Than is a conjunction used for making a comparison. That is it. That is it’s only use. In fact, than is so unique that you can’t swap it out of a sentence. (e.g., “She’d rather have butter than cream cheese.”)

Pop quiz! Write down your answers and see how you do.

  1. There is nothing better (then/than) choosing to “like” this post.
  2. If you can breathe, (then/than) you can share this blog with a friend.
  3. The (then/than) Prime Minister of the UK would like this blog because it talks about Doctor Who from time to time.
  4. Read the post first, (then/than) leave a brilliant comment.
  5. I personally would rather be eating chocolate (then/than) taking a silly grammar quiz.
  6. If you would like to go sneak some chocolate (then/than) go do it, I won’t judge.

Here are the answers:

1. than 2. then 3. then 4. then 5. than 6. then

Get all six right? Woohoo! You are a grammar ninja! Didn’t? It’s ok, try and try again!

Keep up the good work and as always –

Happy Writing!

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