English has long been established as the language of scholarly publishing, with 95% of the research output being published in English-language journals.1 On the other hand, poor language or grammar can also distract from your research and is among one of the key reasons for manuscript rejection.2 This highlights the importance of ensuring the manuscripts you submit are written carefully and polished to eliminate avoidable errors. However, English can be complex especially for those non-native English speakers. There are a lot of words that are used incorrectly, especially words that not only sound similar but also look alike. In this article, we focus on then vs. than, which are often mixed up. Read on to know the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than’ and how you can use them correctly.
What is the difference between then and than?
The words then and than may sound the same but have different meanings and are used differently in the English language.
Then is used to refer to time or a sequence of events. See the examples below:
- I miss my time at college, everything was much easier then.
- We are flying to New York on Friday, then to Paris on Sunday.
Than is used to draw a comparison and usually appears in combination with other words, for instance heavier than, greater than, fewer than, etc. See the examples below:
- This table is heavier than four of the dining room chairs.
- Hannah and I ate more than our share of cake last evening.
As you can see, these words cannot be used interchangeably or they could change the intended meaning. That brings us to the next point where we discuss when to use then vs. than.
Understanding how and when to use then vs. than
When to Use Then
Then is most commonly used as either an adverb, noun or an adjective.3
- When then is used as an adverb of time it indicates that one event follows another. For example:
- Turn left at the next street, then take a U-Turn.
- I graduated from college, then I took up an apprenticeship in Berlin.
- When then is used as a conjunctive adverb it connects two ideas or clauses in sentence, just like a conjunction. For example:
- We can go to the movies, but then we have an important exam tomorrow.
- When my sister will be home, only then will I be able to relax
- When then functions as a noun, its usage signals a point in time. For example:
- David used to be really strict, but he has become slightly easy-going since then.
- The show gets over at 9:00, but I’ll be home before then.
- When then is used as an adjective, it describes a condition or a position that used to be true but is not anymore. For example:
- The meeting was addressed by then President Bill Gates.
- Paula’s then best friend was at the conference yesterday.
When to Use Than
Than is a conjunction that is used for making comparisons between elements, objects, and people. 3 For example:
- There were more than 5,000 people in the room.
- Fewer than a dozen students showed up for the class.
- Did you hear that less than 20% of the population wears a mask in the city?
In all the above examples, than is introducing a comparison between two things. Remember, no matter what you are comparing, be it be time, money or speed, if a comparison is taking place, than is the right word to use.
Commonly confused then vs. than examples
There are some sentences where the then vs. than battle gets even more intense because the sentence makes sense using both the words. However, the message you’re trying to convey becomes different as you replace one word with another.
Here’s an example:
- I would rather cook than eat outside food.
- I would rather cook then eat outside food.
In the above example the two sentences communicate different meanings. The first sentence says you prefer cooking to eating outside. The second says you prefer to cook first and eat outside food second. The second sentence isn’t wrong, unless your intended meaning is a comparison.
In a nutshell
Use then when you want to express a sense of time or what comes next or used to be.
Use than when you intend to form comparisons between two things or people.
The two words are very close in the way they sound and appear, so it’s the message you’re trying to convey that will decide when you use then vs. than.
- Torres, A. The importance of the languages of scientific publications (2017) Available at: https://www.revistacomunicar.com/wp/school-of-authors/the-importance-of-the-languages-of-scientific-publications/
- Khadilkar, S.S. Rejection Blues: Why Do Research Papers Get Rejected?J Obstet Gynecol India 68, 239–241 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13224-018-1153-1
- Merriam Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/