Today’s The Weight of Words is one I’ve seen popping up with some frequency on Facebook. I’m sure it was a simple error in typing and not a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge that led to the misuse of then when what the person really meant was than. But just in case, let’s revisit exactly when, how, and where one would use then and than.
When considering which word to use, remember then, mainly an adverb, deals with the element of time. Think what comes next or after and apply then to the sequence of events. It can also be used in If…then constructions. Don’t forget using then as a noun meaning that time (fifth example) and as an adjective meaning at that time (sixth example).
I’ll mow the grass and then I’ll play golf.
We watched television and then we went to bed.
She made dinner and then her family ate it.
If you don’t complete your chores, then you aren’t going to your friend’s house.
I wanted lunch at 11:30, but then was not a good time.
My then sister-in-law stays in touch with me since the divorce.
Than, a conjunction, is used when comparing things. Think instead or rather. A choice may be involved.
I’d rather play golf than mow the grass.
We prefer watching television than going to bed.
She’d opt for dining out rather than making dinner for the family.
Also keep in mind than has no one-word synonyms whereas then has many synonyms that can be used as replacements except in If…then constructions where then is usually required when paired with if.