Last week, we took a look at understanding the usage of [sic] in writing. As part of that post, I received a comment from Sydney Arnold suggesting that I do another Grammar 101 post on the difference between then and than. Well, that’s what I’m doing today!
Although only a single letter separates then and than, they have vastly different meanings. The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that most people tend to pronounce the two words almost the same way, making for an even more confusing situation. However, as soon as you understand their respective definitions, the distinction will become much more clear.
Then is used in reference to time. You would use this word when you are talking about a sequence of events or placing one event in time relative to another. For example:
I went to the mall and then I bought a pair of shoes.
The word then can also be used in a context similar to using “in that case.” Example:
You really want all-wheel-drive? You should consider a Subaru then.
Than is used in reference to comparisons. You would use this word when you are talking about the characteristics of one noun in relation to the same characteristics of another noun. For example:
Most people are better writers than John Chow.
The easiest way to differentiate between the usage of then and than is just to think about the context of your sentence. Is the word being used in the context of a time sequence or is it being used for the purpose of comparing two things?
If you follow these basic guidelines, then you may have better grammar than nearly everyone else on the Internet.