The Easy Explanation
“Then” usually shows a time sequence: First comes love, then comes marriage.
“Than” shows a comparison: Yogi is smarter than the average bear.
When to Use Then vs. Than
The word “then” is usually an adverb and often shows a time sequence (usually as in what happens next). It can be also be an adverb that shows a consequence (meaning in that case):
If you’re not going to follow the rules, then you’re going to have to leave.
The word “than” is a conjunction that shows a comparison (as in as compared with):
Eunice’s skin is darker than her brother’s.
Examples of Then vs. Than
- Go to the first aisle and then make a left. (meaning what happens next)
- He first screamed and then cried. (showing a time sequence)
- Those who don’t learn history are then doomed to repeat it. (showing a consequence)
- This movie theater serves better popcorn than the one across town. (showing a comparison)
How to Remember the Difference
These words are so close—just one little letter!—that it is one where you simply have to make yourself stop and pay attention when you are using them. An easy trick to remember which is which is that “then”—which shows time—looks like “ten,” and there are numbers on a clock. “Than”—which shows comparison—looks like “tan,” and people are always comparing tans.
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct? See if you can tell.
- Some people would rather eat a bug then give a speech in front of a large group.
Wrong: This is a comparison, so it should be “than.”
- The astronaut jumped and then did a somersault.
Right: This shows a time sequence, so it is “then.”
- If you want to graduate, than you have to pass your classes.
Wrong: This shows a consequence, so it should be “then.”