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What is the Difference Between then and Than?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The difference between "then" and "than" is fairly simple, but many people, including experienced English speakers, have difficulty with these two words. In fact, the two words are totally different parts of speech, used in entirely different ways; the confusion is probably linked to the fact that they sound very similar in spoken English, making it difficult to tell which word is being used. Knowing the difference between them will greatly improve the readability and quality of an individual's written English.

The word "than" is a conjunction, which means that it links two clauses. This word is further classified as a subordinating conjunction, which means that it establishes some sort of relationship between two clauses — in this case, the relationship is comparative. For example, someone could say that "this apple is bigger than the one I had last night," or "Was the sequel better or worse than the first movie?" Any time a person is comparing two things, "than" is the appropriate word to use.

On the other hand, "then" is an adverb, meaning that it modifies a part of speech or a clause. Specifically, it is used as a conjunctive adverb to join two clauses that are separated by time; "then" acts like a unit of time in a sentence, telling when something happened (or is going to happen). For example, one could say "He went to the store, and then stopped by the park," or "Please do your homework, and then you may watch television." In both of these sentences, the word could be replaced by "after that," and the sentences would make sense.

When someone is looking at a sentence and trying to figure out which word is appropriate, he should think about what he is trying to convey with the sentence. If he is comparing something, he will want to use "than," while if he is discussing the time at which something occurred, "then" is the most appropriate choice. One might use the simple trick of remembering that "then" rhymes with "when," or use the "after that" trick, by replacing the word in question with "after that" and seeing if the sentence still makes sense. Using examples from above, "The apple is bigger after that the one I had last night" is rather nonsensical, while "Please do your homework, and after that you may watch television" works as a sentence.

The difference between these two words is far from subtle, and mastering it is crucial for people who want to be communicate clearly, effectively, and professionally. Fortunately, unlike the difference between "effect" and "affect," the difference between "then" and "than" is quite easy to remember, making it easy to use these words correctly.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon342468 — On Jul 21, 2013

Another good (if a bit naughty) trick is to use 'I would rather be peed off than peed on'. Try replacing with the word then.

By amypollick — On Jun 07, 2011

anon183969: It's "Good night, then." As in the previous post, "then" is an adverb of time, which is what is implied. Nothing is being compared.

"Than" would be used if someone said, "I'd rather say 'good night' *than* 'good morning.'"

"Than" is used for comparison or contrast. "Then" generally refers to time.

By anon183969 — On Jun 07, 2011

what would be the appropriate way to respond to: "I'm sleepy."

A. Good night than


B.Good night then

By amypollick — On Jun 01, 2011

@anon182036: The correct phrasing is "Better late than never," since "than" acts as a comparative conjunction-- comparing "late" to "never".

"Then" is an adverb of time. Example: "The store opens at 9 a.m. I will go then."

By anon182036 — On Jun 01, 2011

In that case, which one of the following is correct?

Better late then never?


Better late than never?

By anon170238 — On Apr 25, 2011

Thanks for explaining this so nicely. I always had problem with this. Some other words which confused me were Aeroplane and airplane, color and color but later i came to know that it was just U.S and U.K spelling.

By anon162433 — On Mar 23, 2011

Thanks much. My college students are having trouble with this and I will share your "then rhymes with when" tip.

By anon156532 — On Feb 27, 2011

it was very helpful.

By anon116399 — On Oct 06, 2010

@Kamchatka: "whoever taught me", not "whomever taught me"!

By anon98856 — On Jul 24, 2010

Hm, and I was sure I knew how to write English pretty well. After all, I've been learning it for 12 years officially and around 20 years unofficially. I really can't remember this ever mentioned by any of my teachers. Actually I thought that "than" was the English and "then" was the American version of the same word. Thank you for teaching me the basics after 20 years of learning.

By ellaesans — On Jul 22, 2010

@Kamchatka - I always hated having to come up with a reason or another way to remember things about the English language. I wish it could just be a simple "this is how it's done and that's that," but it definitely is not. That being said, the "then, than" situation haunts about 75% of people in daily life - interesting.

By Kamchatka — On Jul 22, 2010

@stare31 - That is quite a lengthy description just to remember when to use then or than! I would have to kill my English teacher (or whomever taught me). Than is more overly used when working with similarities if-than or if-when situations.

By stare31 — On Jun 21, 2008

Thanks for the then-when trick. I think that's better than the trick I was taught -- then and time both have the letter E so you use then for time-related situations, and than and comparison both have the letter A so you use than when comparing things.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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