Then vs. Than – When to Use Each (With Examples)

Even Native English speakers mess up than and then because of their similar spelling and pronunciations. However, their meanings significantly vary. 

This guide will show you nuanced differences between then vs. than. Learn when to use the two words in the sentence before the self-anointed grammar policemen point out your grammar error. 

Then vs. Than: What’s The Difference?

Then is an adverb, noun, or adjective that indicates a previous time. Meanwhile, than is a conjunction used when comparing two items or people. 

Use then in writing or events when there is an element of time. In the English language, then means at that time, at that point, or next. You’ll find it in phrases like since then and until then to show a reference of time.

Use than in common phrases like better than, further than, taller than, or broader than. You’ll find this word after terms like other, less, more, and rather. 

In Middle English, then and than used to be the same word used for all their meanings. People used them to show relationships with time and for comparison purposes. However, modern writing now treats them differently.

That’s why the two words are now homophones people get confused with. Homophones are words that show an essential difference in spelling but similarities in sound.

When to Use Then

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You can use then as an adverb to replace at that time in question to make grammatical sense. This adverb helps you place events in time in order, such as when relating to a future time.

Examples: 

  • But by then, Shannon might be tired.
  • Let’s buy ice cream and then watch a movie. 

Here’s a longer, multilayered example of then relating to the future.

My first subject is Chemistry, then French, then Science. Then, I’ll have lunch, go to Math class, and go home. 

Then can also mean previous or former. Some English speakers use the term if they can’t recall the exact time of an event in the past. Here are some sentences that use then relating to a previous time.

Examples:

  • The then president visited our small town.
  • We lived in San Diego then. 

Aside from using then in terms of time, you can also use it to show consequence or mean in that case. 

Examples:

  • If you had taken care of the cat, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.
  • I slept late, so then I woke up dizzy. 

When to Use Than

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Making an unequal comparison requires using a particular word in the English language. Than is the conjunction that expresses a form of comparison in a sentence. Use it to introduce the second item or person to make direct comparisons. 

For instance, when you say “truth is stranger than fiction,” it means that real events are more unnatural than imagination.

Examples:

  • My mother told me that a curious person is better than a know-it-all.

Is it Earlier Than or Earlier Then?

Both phrases are correct but have different meanings. The more common phrase you might be looking for is earlier than. For example, you might arrive at school earlier than usual. However, you used to come earlier then

Is it Later Then or Later Than?

The correct phrase is later than if you want to show a comparison between two late items, people, or events. 

Is it Rather Then or Rather Than?

The correct term is rather than since rather is used to show preference in a specific matter. For instance, you might know someone who wants wine rather than a martini. 

Is it Other Than or Other Then?

Other than is the appropriate phrase as it means apart from or except. 

Is it Better Than or Better Then?

Better than is one of the most popular phrases with the word than. To be better than something or someone means you’re superior or more excellent. 

Is it More Than or Then?

The appropriate phrase is more than, which indicates a bigger value or amount. It can also mean extremely, as in more than gratefulto be reading this post. 

Is it Less Then or Less Than?

Use less than as a synonym for far from or certainly not. 

It is Well Then or Well Than?

The correct phrase is well then to indicate that what someone said was unexpected or inappropriate. Well than is a wrong phrase because well is not in its comparative form. 

Than Me or Than I?

The traditional rule is to use than I because the longer version of the sentence is typically than I am. However, it can lead to outdated-sounding language, especially if you use a different pronoun.

Example:

  • He is smarter than she.
  • He is smarter than I.

Can You Start a Sentence With Then?

You can start a sentence using then when showing a list of events or a chronology of events. 

Example:

  • I read a book last night. Then I got hungry and ordered food. 

How Do You Use Than in a Sentence?

Here are plenty of examples of how you can use than in a sentence.

An asteroid wider than two football fields will zoom past Earth in the wee hours of Thursday (Aug. 4). The asteroid is set to pass at 12:23 a.m. (ET). [Live Science].

Indeed, it may have been no more than a coincidence that Tsai Chi-chang, deputy speaker of Taiwan’s legislature, appeared to respond to Pelosi’s suit by wearing a pink tie to meet her on Wednesday morning. [CNN].

She recalls one episode in which a former employer chastised her and two other assistants, each of whom made more than $150,000 a year, she says, for putting bananas in the refrigerator, instead of on the kitchen counter.  [Wall Street Journal].

The arrests on Tuesday near Krugersdorp, a city northwest of Johannesburg, bring the total number of people detained since the attack to more than 120. [The Guardian].

How Do You Use Then in a Sentence?

Let’s take a look at these examples of then in sentences.

Shark! Man in New Jersey catches, then releases a 7-foot sand tiger shark. [Fox News].

Speaking to CNN, the congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said sorry for broaching the issue in a debate – but then said again she thought Biden would not run. [The Guradian].

No, because smartphones bring these three features into one product. Then why should organizations pay for three different products, when it is indeed possible to bring all these aspects into one smart product? [Forbes]

The Real Difference Between Than vs. Then

One of the writing issues that English speakers and writers face is the confusion between than vs. then. Using the two words interchangeably can be annoying for grammar perfectionists, even in informal writing. Remember:

  • Use then in a sentence when referring to a sense of time, whether past or future. You can also use it to show consequences.
  • Use than to feature comparisons between two unequal items, places, persons, or events.

Answer the worksheet below to test your knowledge of this homophone. 

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