Than vs. then

Then is mainly an adverb, often used to situate actions in time. For example, you wake up in the morning and then have breakfast. It’s also used in if … then constructions such as, “If you wake late, then you might have to skip breakfast.” It also works as a noun meaning that time (e.g., “I wanted breakfast, but then was not a good time”) and as an adjective meaning at that time (e.g., “My then boyfriend was not an early riser”).

Than is a conjunction used mainly in making comparisons—e.g., “My breakfast is better than yours”; “I make breakfast differently than you do.”

To help distinguish between the two words, remember that than has no one-word synonyms. It is a one-of-a-kind word. To illustrate, try thinking of a single word to replace than in My breakfast is better than yours.” There isn’t one. Then, in contrast, has many synonyms and often bears replacement with an equivalent word or phrase. For instance, “I woke up and then had breakfast” can become “I woke up and subsequently had breakfast.” The exception is in if … then constructions, where the then is usually required. But for these situations, just remember that then, not than, is the correct spelling of the word often paired with if.

Examples

Then

Lawmakers would then turn their attention to a financial regulatory overhaul, and then pick up where they left off on health care. [Star Tribune]

The then President Olusegun Obasanjo gave him his full backing. [Punch]

By then, he was increasingly viewed like a precocious child whose manner had soured from cute to insufferable. [Gazette Net]

If this is the case, then it exists alongside a surprisingly resilient sense of class belonging. [The Age]

Than

For Wizards, more questions than answers [Washington Post]

Getting excited about my wedding rather than my marriage was a red flag. [Psychology Today]

60 thoughts on “Than vs. then”

  1. “Differently than”!! Never. The word “from” goes with “different” or “differently”, “different to” is barely acceptable, but “different than” is shocking English. Please fix your example above.

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  2. simply put if the phrase has a time related componant you use “Then”. If on the phrase has a comparitive nature you use “Than”. It really is that simple.

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    • Yet i keep seeing “my house is bigger THEN yours”. English is not my mother tonge (quoting Rammstein) so i wasn’t sure it was correct or not. I just sounds wrong

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      • Younger American English speakers were not taught to as rigorous a standard as were their (perhaps elderly) elders. Grade inflation in schools has also allowed a certain slovenliness in thinking which often extends into their speech and writing. This has resulted in an undiscriminating ear which allows them to think “then” is the same as “than”. It is also a “condition” of their minds which makes it all too easy for them to misunderstand what someone has said. Since attention span may also be affected, they’re quick to assume ill intent on the part of a speaker and jump to wrong conclusions. Given their general lack of respect for elders and no one among their peers with the will and reason to correct them, only continued and deepening societal chaos and barbarity await us all.

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    • hmmm – now this is a different-meaning synonym, ‘ergo’ or ‘thus’. Honestly, let’s get out of the weeds & simplify the difference. If ‘then’ connotes time, just substitute the rhyming, time-relative term ‘when’. Simpler is better. When you read someone misusing the other, ask “Exactly WHEN do you intend to use ‘then’; sooner rather than or later?”

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  3. I really don’t recall people having trouble and switching up “then” and “than” until very recently. Maybe because it is something I see online and becomes very apparent when seeing people use them in writing…in speech I suppose the pronunciation is similar enough to not notice in passing. I have to admit it is a pet peeve of mine though!

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    • I believe you’re right. It does seem that the internet has exposed a widespread preexisting issue. Although by no means a grammarian, I do find it somewhat surprising and annoying that so many people in the English speaking world have such ignorance of basic English. Perhaps if more internet users took time out to read – and enjoy – a good novel once in a while, it would achieve more positive results than websites like this.

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    • Wouldn’t “I’d rather go earlier then later” mean, “I would like to go earlier and then I would like to go later.”

      My understanding is that using the word “then” means that you’re referring to when something is going to happen. You can compare your thoughts about time using the word “than” but it is still a comparison. It’s about what you would rather do, or a comparison of your thoughts on time. If you said “I would rather go earlier, then later”, it’s ABOUT a time but also about WHAT time you want to do something.

      If you say “I would rather go earlier than later” you’re just talking about what you would rather do and basically comparing the two options.

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  4. Isn’t it easier to just remember that “than” is only used for comparisons and “then” is used for everything else?

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  5. Remi! I sure hope you found this rather easily and now here is your real PUZZLE! What do people do when they “Make an Ass out of You and Me”? I find this one funny! I hope you have more luck than others will. Also, put a 11 on the end of it! Good Luck!

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  6. Great examples! I’m still having trouble and hoping someone here can help with a sentence question regarding then or than. The sentence: I couldn’t begin to imagine a deeper love possible ________ what I had for massage, until I used my feet.

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  7. And what if you continue a conversation using this word. like this: “So, you’re a proffessional, then”.
    what word would you use? I think “then” because in my mother tonger (Hebrew) I would translate it as the word “אז” which is the same word I’ll use in this sentence: “you wake up in the morning and then have breakfast”

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