I have a tendency to overthink certain grammar rules. Then vs. than is one of those grammar rules that I think I’ve nailed down, but always end up double checking after overthinking it for 10 minutes. To save you time and confusion, here are a few ways to remember the correct usage.
“Then” is used to describe an element of time and is used mostly as an adverb.
Example #1: “We worked in the yard for a few hours and then went to the movies.” Afterwards is the element of time being described in this example.
Example #2: “If you don’t clean your room, then you can’t go to the movies.” As a consequence or in that case is the element of time being described in this example.
Example #3: “We can first take care of mulching the flower beds then we can go to the movies.” At that time or that time is the element of time being described in this example.
Then is always used in the construction “if … then.” For example, “If he had just listened to me in the first place, then he wouldn’t have tried using that cheap paint on the walls.”
“Than” conveys a comparison and is often used with comparative words and phrases like more, less, and fewer.
Example #1: “He paid more money for his shoes than she did for hers.”
Example #2: “The sunsets in Hawaii are better than sunsets anywhere else in the world.”
Then = E = Time, which has an E, not an A in it.
Than = A = Comparison, which has an A, not an E in it.
As with any rule, there are exceptions. For example, “I usually need to go to sleep no later than 10 p.m.” I offer this quick tip with its requisite grain of salt.
For other great resources on this grammar rule, I direct you to CM Punk’s Grammar Slam on then vs. than, or my other favorite grammar poster from The Oatmeal, “Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling.”
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this post originally appeared on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog. Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.