For Gold, Peace, and Freedom


English Lesson 5: Correct Use of Than and Then

April 12th, 2008

than-then-usage.jpgMisuse of the words then and than has become quite common in recent years, especially when we look at blogs and articles that are published on the Internet. For example, I have often seen Internet marketers mix up then and than in their sales letter copy. Many of them are apparently oblivious to the fact that they look quite silly when trying to sell products to people who can easily see that they are not even bothering to proofread their own writing while still expecting prospects to take them seriously enough to trust them and actually purchase something.

In other instances, I have seen cases where bloggers are genuinely confused about which of the two words to use and are wondering how they should be spelled. In this week’s lesson, I will attempt to clear up the confusion regarding proper use of then and than by first defining these terms and then providing examples of correct and incorrect usage.

First of all, the word than has three major definitions and uses:

  • Comparison of one entity or quality to another:
    1. Two is less than three.
    2. In general, Internet marketers have a greater income potential than those who are employed at traditional salaried occupations in the corporate world.
  • Indication of a preference:
    1. John McCain’s basic values are so antithetical to libertarian ideals that I would rather vote for a Democrat than take the risk of him being elected as president.
    2. It is better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush.
  • Used to suggest something beyond a specific amount or a certain point:
    1. In order to benefit from my articles and understand enough of the material to make an intelligent comment, people need to read more than the first paragraph.
    2. The differences between Republicans and Libertarians go far beyond and involve much more than simple disagreements about the degree of federal taxation.

Meanwhile, then also has three basic meanings:

  • Reference to the past or a previous time period in comparison with the present; at another point in time:
    1. Back then, search engine optimization was relatively simple. Now, however, it is somewhat more difficult because search engine algorithms are more complex and there are more competing web pages for most keywords.
    2. A common Karlonian fantasy is having the ability to return to the days of yore while still retaining knowledge of all historical events leading up to the present day. From our modern perspective, things seemed so much simpler back then.
  • The next item in a sequence:
    1. When building a profitable website, it is better to publish quality content first and then apply the monetization methods as opposed to trying to do it the other way around.
    2. In order to balance the federal budget, pay off the national debt, and make real long-term improvements to our economy, we must first reduce government expenditures and then look at ways to lower taxes and increase our economic freedom.
  • Denotes a logical conclusion; often used in computer programming code in the form “If X Then Y Else Z”:
    1. If you have optimized your page properly, done the necessary keyword research, and acquired a significant number of inbound links, then you can expect to see a significant amount of search engine traffic arriving at your website.
    2. If X = 2, then print “Yes, your answer is correct. 1 + 1 = 2″, else print “Sorry, your answer is incorrect. Please try again.”

Now for some examples of incorrect and correct usage:

Incorrect: Buy a reusable water bottle, rather then using plastic ones. — found as an article title at http://www.edenbee.com/goals/933946514

Correct: Buy a reusable water bottle rather than using plastic ones.

Incorrect: Are cats better then dogs? — used as the title of a video at Metacafe.com

Correct: Are cats better than dogs?

Incorrect: The key to reading IF operators is to understand that the condition part of the traditional “if X than Y else Z” notation has already been evaluated. — rpntutorial, “Reading the IF Operator” at http://oss.oetiker.ch/rrdtool/tut/rpntutorial.en.html

Correct: The key to reading IF operators is to understand that the condition part of the traditional “if X then Y else Z” notation has already been evaluated.

Incorrect: I hear sound, and than I don’t hear sound when I put a movie in the vcr. Can you help? — user “mandylover”, trying to ask a question on Yahoo Answers

Correct: I hear sound, and then I don’t hear sound when I put a movie in the VCR. Can you help?

Next week’s topic is currently scheduled to cover the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of apostrophe abuse, where apostrophes are being used in plural forms of words when they should be used only to indicate possession. Meanwhile, if you have any other suggestions for English usage topics, please feel free to mention these in the comment section below.

6 Responses to “English Lesson 5: Correct Use of Than and Then”

  1. comment number 1 by: Lisa

    OMG…I can’t believed you blogged about this. This is TOTALLY a pet peeve of mine. I was beginning to think I was the only person who knew the difference between then and than…way to go!

  2. comment number 2 by: A.

    A suggestion for a future post - the difference between lay and lie.

  3. comment number 3 by: Polina

    As I’ve been taught - “then” is used when speaking of time or sequence of some actions, “than” when you are trying to compare things:)
    Am bookmarking the page to be able to get back for more English lessons:)

    And my 2 thumbs up for the next topic suggested - the difference between lay and lie.

  4. comment number 4 by: Tamara

    So glad you did this. I constantly see this on Facebook and like Lisa thought I was the only one that new the difference. Thanks!

  5. comment number 5 by: Tamara

    Suggested future lesson affect and effect

  6. comment number 6 by: Karlonia


    Actually I have covered ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ in Lesson 10:

    Correct Use of Affect and Effect


    Good news — ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ have been covered too!

    Correct Use of Lie and Lay

    To look at the others, you can go to the “English Usage” category on the sidebar and scroll down to see the titles. If you click on a title, this will take you to the full article page. So far there are 25 specific “lessons”, plus a few other English-related pages that are mostly examples of questionable written works by other authors.

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