When to Use Then & Than

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'Then' and 'than' are two words that are commonly confused but actually do very different things in a sentence as 'then' is an adverb and 'than' is a preposition.

Then & Than

'Then' and 'than' are two words that are commonly mixed up by readers and writers alike. If you pay close attention, you will probably even notice the mistake popping up in published books and articles because it can even slip by professional proofreaders sometimes.

But though they look similar, 'then' and 'than' are very different. Not only do they have different meanings, but they do different things in a sentence. In English, words are broken up into nine categories, called parts of speech, which describe a word's function in a sentence. If the wrong part of speech is used, such as using 'then' for 'than', the sentence makes no sense and is grammatically incorrect.

'Then' is the part of speech known as an adverb, which modifies verbs, adjectives, and phrases while 'than' is a preposition, which shows relationships.

And Then

Adverbs like 'then' are used to modify verbs (action words), adjectives (describing words) and groups of words in a sentence. They add more specific detail to give the sentence clarity. As an adverb, 'then' can serve two different purposes. The first is to indicate something that is happening next, or after something else:

  • Every morning, I wake up, take a shower, and then have breakfast.
  • I take my final exams in May, and then I am going on a trip to Europe.
  • We need to take care of my problem first, and then we can worry about yours.

It can also be used to indicate 'at that specific time' if the time has already been indicated earlier:

  • I turned 13 in 1998. I was living in Italy then.

Describing something as bigger than a breadbox is a common comparison.

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