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Word Fact: Then vs. Than

then

Then and than are among the 100 most frequently used words in the English language. For some, this ubiquity translates into greater opportunity for committing grammatical blunders. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two terms.

Then indicates time or consequence, as in the following examples: Bagels were cheaper then; First I’ll drink my orange juice, then eat my bagel; If I drink too much orange juice, then I won’t have room for a bagel.

Than is used to indicate comparison: He likes bagels more than I like bagels. However, things get a little trickier when we consider ­­how to abbreviate this sentence. Is it He likes bagels more than I, or He likes bagels more than me? Traditionalists will argue that than is a conjunction, and that the pronoun in the subordinate clause should be in the subjective case (I, he, she, they): He likes bagels more than I. In this construction, the reader is able to effectively and accurately finish the sentence in his or her mind, “more than I like bagels.”

However, in informal communication, than is often treated as a preposition, and the pronouns in the second element are in objective case (me, him, her, them): He likes bagels more than me. Although you’ll often be able to get your point across just fine with than me, be aware that for attentive readers and listeners, it can introduce ambiguity: does he like bagels more than I like bagels? Or does he like bagels more than he likes me?

To avoid confusion, your best bet is to use than I (or than he, than she, than they) in formal and professional settings, and reserve than me (along with than her, than him, than them) for informal speech.

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71 Comments

  1. Tito -  May 12, 2016 - 5:20 pm

    So if I may ask for clarity please and thank u,
    Is it “..Than to be…” or “..Then to be…” and to be specific with the sentence it is ” I’d Rather Be Hated For Who I Am, Then To Be Loved For Who I’m Not ” or is it actually “I’d Rather Be Hated For Who I Am, Than** To Be Loved For Who I’m Not ” ??

    I appreciate the article and help sincerely Tito ;o}

    Reply
    • tim -  May 14, 2016 - 4:53 pm

      Then to be.

      I’d rather be hated for who I am, than to be loved for who I’m not.

      Reply
  2. Jo -  August 2, 2015 - 8:27 pm

    “then” is when

    Reply
  3. Larry Scholnick -  March 11, 2015 - 10:35 am

    I came up with a way to help remember which word, THEN vs THAN, should be used.

    Look at the shape of the capital letter E. It has a starting line and 3 line that go to the right (which can be thought of as going into the future).
    Use the word THEN when speaking of points in time.

    Look at the shape of the capital letter A. It has lines that start at the bottom and converge at a higher level.
    Use the word THAN when speaking of a comparison.

    You used to have no clue which word, THEN vs. THAN to use, but then I gave you a way to remember, which was better than it was before.

    Reply
    • L -  March 27, 2015 - 9:25 am

      That is a creative way to remember.

      Reply
    • Marie -  April 10, 2015 - 1:34 pm

      Yes, English can be a difficult language what with all the thens and thans, but I’ve seen this mistake made by people with doctorates (who are native speakers, sadly educated in this country). Please do not depend on grammar or spell check only! Re-read what you wrote before hitting send, check references yourself. Don’t be so lazy to depend on technology to do what you should have learned in grammar school. Oh, and by the way, there is a shift button on keyboards so that you can capitalize the first word of a sentence.

      Reply
    • Jeffrey -  July 27, 2015 - 12:41 am

      The way I remember is to start by replacing the ‘T’ with a ‘W’:

      E – Then -> When: a matter of time

      A – Than -> What: a comparison

      Therefore:

      “Bagels were cheaper back then.” (cheaper THEN -> WHEN: a matter of time)

      “Bagels were cheaper than muffins.” (cheaper THAN WHAT? : a comparison)

      Reply
    • XsandR -  May 3, 2016 - 8:24 pm

      I love your trick!!! As for myself I have always thought of it slightly different. I still use the ‘e’ in then and the ‘a’ in than, although I think of it as: There is an ‘e’ in time, so then=time and there is an ‘a’ in comparison, so than=comparison! Our tricks are very similar!

      Reply
    • fabian -  July 26, 2016 - 11:12 am

      That is so creative… I believe tricks, songs or simple mnemonics gives one greater chance at retaining info

      Reply
  4. Sarah Asher -  February 24, 2015 - 10:14 am

    The difference between “was” and “were”: “Was” is the past tense of the verb “to be” (“He was there.”) – very straightforward. “Were” is both the above (“We were there”,) and the subjunctive tense of “to be” – where it describes something that is wished for, but not actual – (“If I were a rich man…”)

    Reply
  5. peter steinmeijer -  February 19, 2015 - 1:19 pm

    then is time, than iscomparison/condition

    Reply
    • Lorraine -  February 21, 2015 - 6:02 pm

      you couldn’t have explained it any better good job.

      Reply
  6. Shingo B -  February 18, 2015 - 4:36 pm

    This reminds me a lot!
    I should be very careful when I say:

    I love that lady better than him.

    I love that lady but sometimes love him, too?
    or
    He loves that lady, too, but my love is stronger than his love toward her?

    I meant the latter one :)

    Reply
    • taco -  February 23, 2015 - 1:09 pm

      than and that are words that are used with what I feel equality and there is no need

      Reply
    • taco -  February 23, 2015 - 1:13 pm

      taco

      Reply
  7. Alan -  February 16, 2015 - 9:33 am

    I am not a native speaker, but I learned the difference between then an than since I was a very small chidl

    Reply
  8. Philipo -  February 12, 2015 - 1:09 pm

    Thanks for openin my mind on this thing.

    Reply
  9. Koranteng -  February 12, 2015 - 10:16 am

    Thanks, i always want to learn new words from you

    Reply
  10. Mama -  February 8, 2015 - 5:25 am

    yes it is…at least more than not…

    Reply
  11. k.mandikisi(mr) -  February 4, 2015 - 12:38 am

    thanks.the use of the word than i remember it when comparing things.the benefit of eating an apple is greater than white bread.

    Reply
    • mgbemenaagatha -  February 10, 2015 - 7:42 am

      thanks, can I use the word than we or than I when making a sentence. How can I best use these words than and then?

      Reply
    • venkat -  February 10, 2015 - 8:31 am

      these kind of articels are really very useful to the persons who are preparing for competative exams,
      Thanks to daily vocabulay

      Reply
  12. Pistolpete -  February 2, 2015 - 10:10 pm

    This probably has nothing to do with this particular blog but I am looking for the correct spelling for using the word Chow or Chou in a sentence such as Chow Baby! Or is it Chou Baby! Can anyone help me

    Reply
    • Dukeriven -  February 6, 2015 - 7:10 am

      It’s ‘Ciao.’

      Reply
    • peter steinmeijer -  February 19, 2015 - 1:22 pm

      i think you mean the italian “ciao “

      Reply
    • L -  March 27, 2015 - 9:31 am

      WOW…LOL

      Reply
    • Justin -  August 16, 2016 - 3:58 am

      Lol…. NEITHER! It’s Italian in origin, and is spelled Ciao. Meaning goodbye.

      Reply
  13. Emily -  February 2, 2015 - 8:24 am

    VERY neat!

    This is very interesting!

    I think I might forward this to my friend…

    Reply
    • Me em -  February 4, 2015 - 12:09 pm

      Who wouldn’t?

      Reply
      • taco -  February 23, 2015 - 1:30 pm

        ME I DONT HAVE FRIENDS.
        I AM JUST A HACKER LOL.

        Reply
  14. bla -  January 30, 2015 - 6:27 pm

    They great i would like to know the diffrence
    Between of And off!!¡¡!! :-) :-)

    Reply
    • Kathy Robertson -  February 21, 2015 - 8:03 pm

      Get off the couch I said to the dog.

      Of which group was he a member?

      Reply
  15. Andrei Herzlinger -  January 30, 2015 - 12:06 pm

    As I am not a native speaker, I rely heavily on the speller of the “World”.
    I noticed that in all of the 32 instances I used the word “then” in an essay, it tried to correct it to “than”. I will try to remember the simple rule then for time and than for all the other cases.

    Reply
  16. point we'll taken, thanks. -  January 30, 2015 - 1:52 am

    You brought out a very good point. It’s something I have not heard in a long time.

    Reply
    • Bernard -  January 30, 2015 - 8:44 pm

      Thank you. What I’d really like to know is; in what instance is a semicolon used?! See what I did there – huh? Did you?

      Reply
    • Abigail -  February 2, 2015 - 8:28 am

      Uh, was “point we’ll taken, thanks” supossed to be your name? Because I think you put the subject of your comment in the “Name” box.

      If any of you don’t know what I am talking about, you can reply to my comment and ask me.

      Reply
    • Ass -  February 2, 2015 - 8:51 am

      I love your name

      Reply
  17. David Cree -  January 30, 2015 - 1:51 am

    I love words and the subtle difference between them.

    Reply
  18. Nagesh -  January 29, 2015 - 10:14 pm

    This is really a great help. I wish every one should make it a part of their daily routine.

    Reply
  19. shakria -  January 29, 2015 - 6:42 pm

    Iike pizza do you like pizza school is so fun and so I like to learn at schoole

    Reply
  20. Sue -  January 29, 2015 - 5:04 pm

    Insofar as whether he likes more than me or more than I, it is not a matter of formality or informality, it is a matter of whether you want and object (me) or a subject (I).

    Reply
  21. Fiona -  January 29, 2015 - 5:01 pm

    Personally, I think it is a simple fact of accent abuse, or mishearing. Our NZ neighbours with their clipped vowels often sound as if they are using the ‘than’ but it sounds like they are saying ‘then’. And there are a much larger number of NZers in Aus now so their accent is more widespread. I’m not criticising them at all, merely pointing out something I have noticed. The confusion of these two words has driven me bonkers for quite some time now and it wasn’t until I spent time with an NZer that I realized what I was hearing. By default Australians have picked it up and consequently use the incorrect word altogether. Most times I find the NZers are actually using the correct word, it just doesn’t sound like it.

    Reply
    • fluffle puff -  February 18, 2015 - 4:23 pm

      my real name is the same as yours and spelled the same way

      Reply
    • ESL teacher -  February 19, 2015 - 2:18 am

      I am an ESL teacher. I am from the U.S. and I have noticed that this is a very common mistake that drives me crazy too. The part that baffles me is that not only are my students making this mistake, but my friends from the U.S. when they are typing. I’m like you are a native speaker. How is it possible that you don’t know the difference between then and than when you are typing? It is very frustrating for me to have to edit my friends and family when they have typed messages to me, but this is a real problem for both native speakers and learners of English.

      Reply
  22. Patty Heazlitt -  January 29, 2015 - 3:16 pm

    When to use was and were? I wish I were thin instead of I wish I was thin!

    Reply
  23. Lorraine Bennett -  January 29, 2015 - 2:52 pm

    What do you consider correct here?-

    My hat is different to yours
    different than yours
    different from yours?
    Also, the below is a classic in my family: Even in her final year of university my daughter used to be confused between UNLESS, and IN CASE, so would thus say “I will need to take an umbrella today unless it rains” No amount of correction could teach her.
    Thanks…..Lorraine.

    Reply
  24. Linnea -  January 29, 2015 - 1:44 pm

    I was taught that if you would finish the sentence, “… more than I do,” the use of “do” helps you remember the correct pronoun to use.

    It is a simple, quick, and easy way to remember whether to use “I” or “me” to finish that kind of sentence. What goes with, “do” – “More than me do?” or “More than I do?”

    I don’t know from subordinate clauses, but I remember this trick, if you will, for determining whether to use “me” or “I” to finish a sentence where “than” is used to compare another person with oneself.

    Reply
  25. Buzzardstar -  January 29, 2015 - 1:05 pm

    Can you do one on Alright vs. All right? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Henny -  February 2, 2015 - 8:16 am

      Hmm…

      I think alright and all right are the same thing – but I could be wrong…

      ;)

      Reply
    • very wise -  February 10, 2015 - 3:34 pm

      Quite simple Buzzardstar. There is no such word as Alright.
      There is a term ” all right” – and I have not looked this up in any dictionary.
      I learned it at school. I am now 60……………..

      Reply
  26. Bevary -  January 29, 2015 - 9:54 am

    Interesting

    Reply
    • Abigail -  February 2, 2015 - 8:17 am

      Very! :)

      Reply
      • DAVID -  February 23, 2015 - 1:32 pm

        VERY!!!!

        Reply
  27. Bevary -  January 29, 2015 - 9:52 am

    That new to me

    Reply
    • Emily -  February 2, 2015 - 8:19 am

      And me!

      Reply
  28. Jibriel -  January 29, 2015 - 9:44 am

    Hi, you guys are doing a great job. I enjoy reading your blog, its fantastic.
    I want to know the difference between IN and ON. I hope you will updat it on your blog. Thanks

    Reply
    • Sajor Barrie -  February 4, 2015 - 8:12 am

      yh Jibriel, i sometimes used them wrongly;IN n ON

      Reply
  29. jefferyDodge -  January 29, 2015 - 9:35 am

    Much more succinct than me and I…

    Reply
  30. Jody Tucker -  January 29, 2015 - 9:16 am

    I liked this Word Fact better than I liked the last one. I read them, then I memorize them.

    Reply
    • fabian -  July 26, 2016 - 11:24 am

      Out of all the than and then interpretations, I liked your sentences the most.

      Reply
  31. Annette Klover -  January 29, 2015 - 8:42 am

    One of my favorite expressions is “It isn’t who you know but whom.” My daughter heard this from Rev. Peter Gomes of the Harvard Memorial Church when she was in the choir there. It is such a wonderful way remember who/whom.
    I love your site.
    Sincerely,
    Annette

    Reply
    • Vicki -  January 31, 2015 - 3:29 am

      Annette, I love that! I will have to remember that in the future. It’s a great way to remember subjective vs. objective of who and whom.

      Reply
  32. decency -  January 29, 2015 - 8:22 am

    Great! People keep committing this mistake, thank you so much

    Reply
  33. William J Knowles -  January 29, 2015 - 7:29 am

    I am sorry but I do not see the reason in these examples, I can not see a place where then could be used instead of than .If I drink more Orange Juice than I should then I would not have room for my Bagel, At least shows both then and than in the same sentence.
    If I have made a complete fool of myself please let me know,I was very low in my class in English at school and that was 60 years ago.
    Thank you for reading this and all the best
    W J Knowles

    Reply
  34. David Lee -  January 29, 2015 - 7:21 am

    How about “presume” vs. “assume” or “effect” vs. “affect”

    Reply
    • Jake -  February 1, 2015 - 1:36 pm

      I had troubles with affect/effect. The best method I used was to think of ‘effect’ as a result and ‘affect’ as an action.

      ‘Your snoring is affecting my concentration.’
      ‘His attitude affects his performance.’

      vs.

      ‘Social media can have negative effects.’
      ‘What effects do drugs have on the mind?’

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
      • FrankC. -  February 8, 2015 - 7:02 am

        Jake, I never could understand the difference between “affect” and “effect”
        You wrote that “effect” is a result. So wouldn’t it be “His attitude effects his performance?” seeing as how his performance is the result of his attitude?

        Also, if I write something in quotes like the above, with a question mark included, should the question mark be before the quote mark or after it…help :)

        Reply
  35. Ananda Barata (Mr.) -  January 29, 2015 - 7:19 am

    Please elaborate “Thank God” vs. “Thank’s God” to enlighten those in need. Thank you.

    Reply
  36. Eric Mendez -  January 29, 2015 - 6:56 am

    I enjoying reading the comparative words and guess the mining of then. I really appreciate all the information. Sincerely you friend. Eric Mendez.

    Reply
  37. Susan Miles -  January 29, 2015 - 6:51 am

    I believe that when comparing things qualitatively, you would say ‘better than’, ‘faster than’ etc. But if the difference is not qualified, i.e., if you’re just expressing the existence of a difference and not describing it, you would say ‘different from’ and not ‘different than’. Is that correct?

    Reply
  38. Rochelle Saulsberry -  January 29, 2015 - 4:02 am

    I absolutely love blog dictionary. It’s not complicated and a excellent way to get back focus on the value of languages.

    Reply

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