Then vs. Than: What's the Difference?

Smart Students
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Then and than are often confused in English; they are spelled alike and sound similar. However, they are used very differently. Here is an explanation of the two words with a follow-up quiz to help you practice, understand, and remember them.

Begin by reading the following sentences:

She thinks soccer is more interesting than football.
I'd like to first have lunch and then have a cup of coffee.

Using Than

In the first sentence, than is used to compare two items (...more interesting than...).

 Than is used in the comparative form in English. Here are some more examples:

Living in the city is more exciting than living in the countryside. 
Tom has more responsibilities than Peter in this company.
I think that painting is more beautiful than this one.

Than is also used to state a preference with the form would rather:

Subject + would rather + verb + (object) + than + verb + (object).

I'd rather have Chinese food than eat Mexican food today.
She'd rather stay home and watch a movie than go out on the town.
Peter would rather do homework than have fun.

Other important expressions using than include expressions that refer to choices and differences between people, places, and things.

  • other than: Other than Tom, I don't know who wants to come.
  • different than: You'll find that learning Japanese is different than learning English.
  • no one/nowhere/nothing else than: You should be nowhere else than here every day. 
  • anyone/anywhere/anything else than: I'd like to be anywhere else than here at the moment. 
  • better than: He can play tennis better than John. 

Using Then

Then refers to the order in which things happen. In the second example sentence at the start of this article, I'd like to first have lunch and then have a cup of coffee, the person would first like to have lunch, and, after that (then), have a cup of coffee.

It is a sequence of events, such as in:

First, we'll discuss last quarter's business. Then, we'll focus on the new marketing campaign.
I usually begin my day with a shower, and then I have breakfast. 

Then can also be used to refer to a logical result. For example:

If you need to study, then go and study. 

Then is also used as a  time expression to speak about when something happens.

I'll see you then.
I'll be at the party. 
We can speak then.

Then vs. Than: Pronunciation

Then and than sound similar but are slightly different. Than has an a sound as in the word cat or tap. Then has an open e sound as in pet or let.

Read the sentence, concentrating on keeping the vowel a sound the same in each word.

Pat grabbed the cat that was fatter than the bat.

Read the next sentence, focusing on keeping the e open in each word.

Meg set a check on the desk and then met with Chet.

Then vs. Than Quiz

Do you understand the rules? Practice by using the form in these sentences:

  1. Art class is easier _____ math for me.
  2. Let's study first and _____ go for a jog.
  3. I prefer to work hard in the morning and _____ take it easy during the rest of the day.
  4. I'm afraid I'd rather be nowhere else _____ here at home.
  5. My brother is happier now _____ when he was 10 years younger.
  1. Jane gets up, has a shower, and has coffee. _____, she drives to work.
  2. Does this shirt look better on me _____ that shirt?
  3. Other _____ Mary, I don't anyone who is coming over tonight.
  4. Study hard for the test and _____ pass it.
  5. If you want to understand the grammar, _____ you need to ask a question.

Quiz Answers

  1. than: comparative form
  2. then: a sequence of actions
  3. then: a sequence of actions
  4. than: used in the expression nowhere else than
  5. than: comparing time periods
  6. Then: showing a sequence of actions
  7. than: used with the expression better than in the comparative form of good
  8. than: used with the expression other than 
  9. then: used to show that something must be done first before something else can happen
  10. then: used to show a logical result