Common English Errors: Then and Than (updated 19 Jan 16) Featured

English is a confusing language, even for those of us who have grown up speaking it! Many words sound and look similar, and spelling them often is completely counter-intuitive.

Then and than are two words that often trip people up — there is only one letter difference between them, after all! But they have quite different meanings. WARNING: COURSE LANGUAGE FOLLOWS.

Tip: If you're serious about improving your writing, one of the best ways is to improve your vocabulary — not so you know how to use big words, but so you can choose the right word at the right time to convey your meaning precisely and simply. To improve your vocabulary, we highly recommend you try the popular vocabulary-improvement software called Ultimate Vocabulary. Click Ultimate Vocabulary for details.*

Then is an adverb. It has several meanings, all related to time: at that time, next, after, or therefore. In this sentence, then has a couple of slightly different meanings — I was in the circus then, but then I ran away.

Than is a conjunction and preposition. It has several meanings, too, related to comparison. Here it is used as a conjunction — My duck is smarter than your lizard, or Robert is sillier than Harriet. Here it is used as a preposition — He doesn't swim any better than I do.

Sometimes, confusing then and than can lead to embarrassing mistakes:


A useful tip to remember the difference between then and than is that both the words thEn and timE have the letter e in them; and both the words thAn and compArison have the letter a in them.

Here's a quiz to test your understanding of then and than. Fill in the blanks with the correct then/than:

1. You are better ____ me at sport.
2. I ate dinner ____ dessert.
3. We found out that Troy is better ____ Dan at air hockey. ___ we had a cold drink.
4. Better to be safe ____ sorry.
5. Ultimate Vocabulary is better ____ most other vocabulary-building programs.
6. If you want to improve your vocabulary, ____ you should check out Ultimate Vocabulary.


1. than; 2. then; 3(a) than; (b) Then; 4. than; 5. than; 6. then

*We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of Ultimate Vocabulary because we are happy to endorse this award-winning vocabulary-improvement software.




Last modified on Tuesday, 19 January 2016 00:57
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

Website: E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
You are here: Write Better Common English Errors: Then and Than (updated 19 Jan 16)