Word Choice: Then vs. Than

Writing Tips Blog

The difference between “than” and “then” is so slight that it’s easy to mix them up by accident. However, with a clear understanding of what each term means, you should be able to avoid mistakes! Herein, we set out the difference.

Then (Time and Consequences)

The word “then” is used to refer to time, typically to indicate a particular point in time or within a sequence:

First I went shopping, then I went to the cinema.

It can also be used to show that something should follow on from something else:

We must first deal with the budget deficit, then we can think about building infrastructure.

In this case, as well as following on from something else in time (i.e., building infrastructure can only happen at a time after the budget is addressed), using “then” in the second part of the sentence also shows how an idea can follow another in terms of logical sequence.

Other examples of “then” being used in this way include:

If it rains, then the streets will be wet.

If you eat too much cake, then you will get fat.

Than (Comparisons)

The word “than” is always used to make contrasts and comparisons. For instance, we might say:

My father is tougher than yours.

Or we could say:

It is windier in Oklahoma than California.

Another common use of this term is in the phrase “rather than”, which is most often used to express a preference between alternatives (e.g., “I’m going to walk rather than take the bus”).

Than or Then?

As you can see, these words have very distinct meanings, despite their similarities. As such you should take special care not to confuse them in your work. Remember:

Then = Indicating a point in time

Than = Making a comparison

However, since it’s often difficult to proofread your own work, for complete peace of mind you might want to try the professionals.

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