Easily Confused Words: Than vs. Then

Than and Then are easily confused words. I see these two confused on the internet frequently.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Than is a conjunction. Conjunctions involve word relationships to one another, more popular conjunctions are and, or, and but. Than is used to indicate a comparison between two or more things: 2 is greater than 1, Belita is taller than Juana.

Then is an adverb. It indicates moments in time and potential outcomes. Here’s examples of each of those:

  • In the 1980s, I went to the library to research my school reports; there was no internet back then. (time)
  • If Jane gets sick, then she won’t go to the party. (conditions, potential outcomes)

The following story uses both words correctly:

Thelma only had $5 to buy snacks for the office party. If a 3 gallon soda and a bag of chips were more expensive than that, then she could only bring one. 

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