Than versus then: what is the difference and how to use these words correctly
They may sound and look almost the same, but these two words have two completely different meanings.
It's a classic puzzle: when to use then, and when than. Even the most confident native English speakers who boast of knowing the difference between affect and eeffect, fell into the trap of these tricky four-letter words.
You ask why the inventors of the English language created two words that are so sinfully similar to each other? Technically, they didn't. Then и than in Middle English were the same word, which eventually became two different ones.
We cannot return to the interchangeable use of these words, but it is in our power to eliminate the confusion between them once and for all. Edition Reader's Digest explained what is the real difference between then и than, and when should each be used?
What's the difference between then и than?
Let's start with the fact that then и than are two different words. Than commonly used to compare things, and then refers to time. Since they are spelled and pronounced almost the same, many do not realize that the two words have different meanings and are a prime example of homophony.
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We can often decipher the meaning of a sentence where we accidentally used thenwhen it should than, and we won't even notice the error.
When I use then
According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, whenever you talk about time, you should use this word. One of the most common uses is to refer to a specific time.
At the moment:
- I will see you then.
- Back then, things were simpler.
Another common way to use the word is when you are discussing the order of events. For example, when we tell stories, we usually start by describing the first action that happened and then use a word to connect each piece of the story. The same is true for explaining steps in an instruction set, sequence of rows, and numerical orders.
Shortly after this / in the following order:
- I went to bed, then woke up.
Further, in order of position, narration or listing / further in the series:
- I buckled my seatbelt and then turned on the ignition.
- First comes one, then comes two.
- We start by singing the first verse of the song, then we sing the chorus.
Can be used then, to indicate "additionally" (additionally) or "except" (other than).
In addition / besides:
- She has so much to worry about at home, and then there's the stress of work.
It is also used to describe the sequential relationship between cause and effect. In this case, we apply the structure of the sentence "if ... then".
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- If your phone runs out of battery, then it needs to be charged.
- If you don't like chocolate, then you should try vanilla.
In addition, you can use it to draw conclusions, make amends for what was just said, or to indicate what builds on a previous statement.
In this case:
- If you feel strongly about being a vegetarian, then you should not eat meat.
Accordingly, / is used to emphasize the conclusion made:
- You're too tired to stay awake late, then.
Used after butto refute the previous point:
- He didn't get the job, but then he never really wanted the job anyway.
We can conclude / as a way to summarize the conversation:
- The research supports the hypothesis, then.
- The research, then, supports the hypothesis.
You can even use this as an adjective to describe a person’s state at a particular point in time.
Referring to someone existing / belonging to a specified time:
- The then-president, George Washington.
When to use than
This connection is like and or but, usually connects two nouns. When you compare or draw a contrast between two different things, you should use than.
- My brother is taller than me.
- I like chocolate more than vanilla.
Easy, right? Another trick to remember when to use than: look for words like Other, rather, less or more. Since these words are often used in comparisons, than usually follows them in sentences.
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- Other than snow days, I don't like anything about winter.
- Rather than sitting in traffic, I will just take the train.
- After less than five minutes, she was bored of history class.
- The child wanted a puppy more than anything else in the world.
Now that you know all this, it's actually not that hard to tell the two words apart. Just remember to use thanwhen you compare and thenwhen you specify the time.
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