“Then” vs. “Than”: See If You Know The Difference Between Them

Then and than are among the 100 most frequently used words in the English language. The fact that they’re so common means that they’re also commonly misused!

Do you say I will call you no later than 7 pm or then 7 pm? Would you say the company needs a good accountant more than (or then) ever? Some examples are trickier than others, but you can learn to distinguish between these two terms. Let’s take a look at the differences between them.

How do you use then?

Then and than are homophones that sound alike but have different meanings. Then can function as an adjective, adverb, or noun. Then indicates time or consequence, as in the following examples:

  • Bagels were cheaper back then.
  • I poured a glass of juice and then sat down to eat.
  • First I’ll drink my orange juice, then eat my bagel.

You’ll also use then in if … then constructions.

  • If I drink too much orange juice, then I won’t have room for a bagel. (Who wants a bagel now?)

How do you use than?

Than is a conjunction or preposition used to indicate comparison: he likes bagels more than I like bagels.

However, things get a little trickier when we consider ­­how to abbreviate this sentence. Is it He likes bagels more than I, or He likes bagels more than me? Traditionalists will argue that than is a conjunction, and that the pronoun in the subordinate clause should be in the subjective case (I, he, she, we, they): he likes bagels more than I. In this construction, the reader is able to effectively and accurately finish the sentence in his or her mind, “more than I like bagels.”

However, in informal communication, than is often treated as a preposition, and the pronouns in the second element are in objective case (me, him, her, them): he likes bagels more than me.

Although you’ll often be able to get your point across just fine with than me, be aware that for attentive readers and listeners, it can introduce ambiguity: does he like bagels more than I like bagels? Or does he like bagels more than he likes me? (One thing is for certain: we’re getting tired of bagels!)

To avoid confusion, your best bet is to use than I (or than he, than she, than we, than they) in formal and professional settings, and reserve than me (along with than her, than him, than us, than them) for informal speech.

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How can I remember the difference?

The best way to remember the difference between the two is to associate then with time and order and than with any form of comparison. It may also help to note that the word than doesn’t really have a one-word substitute; it’s one of a kind. Take a look at this example: Carlos is taller than his brother. There is no other word that can fill the role of than. However, in I drove to the bank and then went to the store the word then can be substituted by subsequently, to name one example.

Which word is correct in these examples?

 

  • I will call you no later then/than 7 pm.

The answer is thanThen refers to a specific point in time. Than is comparing the time of the phone call to 7 pm and cannot be substituted with another word.

 

  •  The company needs a good accountant more then/than ever.

Again, this is a comparison, so the answer is than.

Here’s one more example for you: if you paid attention, then you should have no problem handling these words in the future!

 

If grammar makes you tense, you’re not alone. Take your knowledge further with these articles on the difference between farther and further, affect and effect, or compliment and complement. Or, you can just dive into the grammar rabbit hole and see all our topics here.

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