Then Or Than: What’s The Difference?

When it comes to English, what better word is there to use then than… I mean, than then?

Since both written and aural forms of the words sound so similar, people often get their thans and thens mixed up.

To make matters more confusing, both words are used as connectors for more significant nouns, verbs, and adjectives. It is of little wonder, then, why the than/then pairing is one of the most commonly confused pair of words.

Ready to learn more about then vs than? Dive right in!


When To Use ‘Then’

Then is usually used in relation to time. It can be used to refer to the sequence in which a series of events occur, or to one specific moment (i.e. “at that time”).

Although most frequently used as an adverb, ‘then’ can be used as an adjective too. As an adverb, it means “at that time”. Used as an adjective, it can be interpreted as “existing”, or “as such”.

Depending on how then is used, it may refer to past, present, or future events.

Example phrases:

  • back then
  • just then

‘Then’ used as an adverb:

  • I was young and foolish back then.
  • Angry at Matt, Lydia then left the room in a huff.

‘Then’ used as an adjective:

  • The then (former) president of Singapore went up on stage to give the opening speech.
  • That decision was made by the then vice-chairman.


When To Use ‘Than’

Usually used to compare objects, people, etc. It can also be used to indicate preference for a certain thing, as in During the weekends, I would much rather stay home than head out or I would rather have a job than have none at all.

Unlike ‘then’, there is no one-word synonym for ‘than’. For example, in I worked out at the gym and then headed to school, ‘then’ can be substituted by other words to form sentences like I worked out at the gym and subsequently headed to school.

Example phrases:

  • bigger than
  • stronger than
  • braver than
  • thinner than
  • fiercer then

Example sentences:

  • Although Sally is very introverted, she is actually much braver than the extroverted Molly.
  • Mr. Thompson has a reputation of being fiercer than the average homeroom teacher in Rivervale High.

Fun fact: Than is commonly found in idioms, too. A couple of examples are easier said than done and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.


Confused no more!

Still have difficulty distinguishing between the two? Just remember that ‘A’ (as in than) is usually used for objects, whereas ‘E’ (as in then) is usually used for time, and you’re all set.

So now hopefully you’re clearer about when to use ‘then’, and when to use ‘than’.