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when to use then and than

Confused by English Grammar? When to Use Then and Than

by Martha Simmonds

Even if you are a native speaker, some parts of English Grammar can be confusing and hard to grasp. One of the most common areas where people mess up is when to use then and than.

Not only do they sound similar, but they are also used in fairly similar instances. However, they do have very specific uses in the English language, and can’t be overlapped. They are also among the 100 most commonly used words, so it isn’t easy to just avoid using them. Thankfully, this article will help break their purposes down for you.

When to Use Then and Than

When to Use

Originally in English, a long time ago, then and than used to be used interchangeably. However, in modern times, they now have specific purposes and uses, and cannot be mixed up while still being correct. However, since they’ve always been mixed up and similar, it can be very hard to figure out which word is the correct one.


To start, let’s look at then as a word on its own. Then has a few purposes. It can be either an adverb, a noun, or an adjective. It is often used alongside some sort of time element. Then can be used to replace any point in time, whether in the future or the past.

It is also used to express consequence. If you want to talk about the consequences of a thought or action, then would be appropriate to use.

Here are a few examples so you can see common ways then would be used.

• She glanced at him and then rubbed her shoulder.
• Her lip pushed out and then she began to cry.
• Food used to be cheaper back then.
• I will eat my breakfast, and then later, I will eat lunch.
• She may be tired by then.
• I want to watch a movie then go and get ice cream.
• I slept late, so then I woke up after classes had started.
• If you’d watched her as I said, then this would have never happened.
Then she started to run.
• At that time, I’d never seen a scarier sight, then it appeared.
• Go down the street and then turn left.
• I was pretty then.
• You will apologize, and then you can go play.
• Mix all the dry ingredients together, then you can add the wet ones.
• They argued for days, then, finally, they made their decision.
• Well then, now that everything is settled, I’ll go and get dinner started.


Now, let’s talk about than. Than is used for comparisons. You use it to introduce a secondary thing, or make direct comparisons between options, people, things, or places.

However, one of the reasons then and than get so confusing is that than also applies to time, occasionally. While it is still a comparison, which is why it is than, it also references a unit of time.

Here are some examples of when to use than.

• It’s better to always be learning than think I know it all.
• She was better dressed than the other girl, but it didn’t matter.
• Do you think the Empire State Building is neater than the Statue of Liberty?
• Would you rather be here than on that school trip?
• Carrots are healthier than burgers.
• She is older than me.
• Better you than me.
• We need an accountant now more than ever.

Sentences using earlier, later, rather, more, less, other, and, better, all can also use than because it is comparing something to something else. Such as one thing is more than the other or better than the other. So when using these words, try to understand what you are trying to say. Do you want to compare two things to another, or express what used to happen in the past?

Let’s look at some examples of when you would use one or the other in these cases.

• I used to wake up earlier then.
• I wake up earlier than everyone else in the house.
• I’d rather remember how it was back then.
• I’d rather do this than be working.
• I was more agile then.
• I earned more medals than her.
• Back then, houses were worth less.
• She did less running than him.
• It was about other things, then.
• I would rather have an apple than the other options.
• Life wasn’t necessarily better then.
• Do you think he is better than me?

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