Sunday, May 6, 2012

More confused than $#!*? A mnemonic for you then.

People often use then and than interchangeably. Although this is common, it is nevertheless a mistake and one that really makes me cringe as an editor. Here is a little mnemonic I hope will help readers avoid confusing the two in the future.

Than is a conjunction used to introduce the second term in a comparison. The operative word here is compare. Note that than and compare are each spelled with an a. When comparing one thing to another, the correct word is than. If you cannot spell compare with an e (compere), you cannot use then. If you can reverse the meaning of the sentence by substituting “not as _______ as”, use than. Again, as is spelled with an a, just as than is spelled with an a.

  • Jack is taller than she.
    Jack is not as tall as she (is).

    Do not use her; she is the subject of an implicit is.
    “Jack is taller than she is.”
    You would not write “Jack is taller than her is.”

  • Sasha is more eloquent than I.
    Sasha is not as eloquent as I (am).

    Do not use me; me is the subject of an implicit am.
    “Sasha is more eloquent than I am.”
    You would not write “Sasha is not as eloquent as me am.”
Then is an adverb used to suggest that something is part of a larger sequence of events. You cannot spell either event or sequence with an a; doing so (evant, sequance) would be wrong. Therefore, in the following examples, then is correct.

  • I was living in Cairo then.
  • Every day, I fed the chickens, then I slopped the pigs.
  • I had run all the way from home to Kiyomi’s house to school when I remembered I had forgotten my books on Kiyomi’s dresser. I had to run back to get them, but by then I was already exhausted.
  • In 1970, Pierre Trudeau, the then-prime minister, enacted the War Measures Act.
Now that you know when to use each of these words, you’re more knowledgeable than many people. Why not send them to this lesson then?


  1. $#|+! Thank you. Your explanation was better THAN mine:), so I texted it to my kids, who are now in college. I guess they were asleep during English classes in their Florida high schools, which began (and still do) earlier THAN the melatonin could dissipate from their brains. THEN again, they could be just plain old lazy. Ahhhh...But, I digress.....

    1. LOL, Stephanie! Thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad you found some value in my post.