It’s not uncommon for people who are new to speaking English to have problems with homonyms (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). Even those who are native English speakers often have trouble choosing which word they want to be using in their writing. Unfortunately, misusing these words will quickly lead to your writing being labeled as amateurish and sloppy.
One of the most common problems encountered by English teachers at every level is their students’ grasp on the difference between “then” vs “than”. While the pronunciation of these two words is slightly different, most people would agree that they sound alike.
When To Use Then and Than
The word “then” is almost always used to indicate something to do with time. For instance, you do something, so and then you do something else. It can also be used in if/then phrases to illustrate the consequences of something happening.
Remember that both “then” and “time” have the letter “e” in them, so the word “then” is always the correct choice when you want to illustrate when in time something happened or will happen.
- I woke up, ate breakfast, and then went to school.
- Are you sure you want to go then?
- If I drive four miles, then you had better be waiting for me to pick you up.
- From then on, he never yodeled again.
The word “than” is always used as a means of comparison. It is used in conjunction with other comparative words in situations like “more than”, “differently than”, or “bigger than”. Similarly, to the memory tick described above, you can always remember that “than” and “comparison” both have the letter “a” in them, so if you are comparing two or more things, the correct word is “than”.
- That bear is much taller than I am.
- Jean is better than you at math.
- Just because he moves more slowly than you do doesn’t mean you will win the race.
- Give me more than you would give my brother.
What to Know
If you are still having any trouble discerning between “then” and “than”, there is one last tick you can use. Remember that there is nothing unique about the word “then”. It can be replaced with words like “next”, “subsequently”, or “after”, depending on the sentence.
Try to substitute another word for “then” in your sentence, and if it makes sense, then you have probably used it correctly. There is no synonym for “than”, however, and you will likely find you get stuck trying to find one. “Than” stands alone as its own unique word in the English language.