Then vs. Than: The Difference and When to Use Each

“Then” and “than” – these two little words can cause big headaches for even the most seasoned writers. They sound alike, and you may think they’re interchangeable. They are not! 

“Then” explains a relationship to time, while “than” is used for making comparisons.

They are among some of the most commonly confused words. But don’t fret! We’re here to sort these words out and put them in their rightful places.

Then: A Temporal Tour Guide

Think of “then” as your tour guide through time. It points to specific moments or sequences of events.

Here are some ways “then” operates in sentences:

  • Chronological order: “First, I preheated the oven. Then, I mixed the batter.”
  • Shifting gears in a sentence: “She loved the book; then again, the movie wasn’t bad either.” (See that semicolon? Nice!)
  • Indicating a past time: “Back then, life was simpler.”

Than: For Making Comparisons

“Than” helps us compare things – people, places, even apples and oranges.

Here’s how “than” helps us make comparisons:

  • Highlighting differences: “This cake is sweeter than the pie.”
  • Degrees of comparison: “She ran faster than anyone else.”
  • Showing preference: “I’d rather have coffee than tea.”

Remembering the Difference

Here’s a handy little mnemonic for remembering the difference between “then” and “than.”

  • “Then” rhymes with “when,” and then is about time, when something happened. When did it happen? It happened then

So there you have it, “then” and “than” in a nutshell. “Then” refers to time, and “than” is for making comparisons.

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