Then vs. Than: How to Decide Which Word to Use

We’ve already covered some often misspelled word pairs like “who” and “whom,” but one of the trickiest puzzles is “then or than” dilemma.

These words are homophones having identical pronunciation, but different sense. Both of them are often used to connect words in sentences, and it makes it even harder to decide which word to use.

Experts at will help you to finally get this “than vs then” rule. To solve the puzzle you will need to understand how each of these words really work.

When to choose “than”

The word “than” is usually conjunction used to connect two clauses in a sentence or to coordinate words within the phrase. You typically use “than” to make a comparison, and sometimes, it can mean “except” or “when.”


He is older than I am.

I’d rather die than accept this job offer.

In some cases, “than” can also serve as a preposition connecting a noun or pronoun to a verb/adjective. This is used to express temporal relationship (“in relation to”) and, as always, for comparisons.

Also, you can use “than” with past tense verbs (past perfect is one the most popular use cases) and specific expressions to outline that one event happened immediately after another.


Hardly had I prepared for a meeting than the fire alarm rang.

Also, “than” is a part of many English idioms:

  • “more dead than alive”
  • “better late than never”
  • “actions speak louder than words”
  • “bite off more than you can chew”
  • Etc.

When to choose “then”

In its turn, the word “then” often serves as an adverb, which modifies adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. “Then” can have multiple meanings, but two most frequent ones are describing the particular time in the past or future and talking about a sequence of events.


First, do your homework, then play soccer.

This afternoon I’ll go to a business meeting, then hang up with an old friend in a bar.

You can find “then” in various idioms and expressions as well.

  • then and there
  • every now and then
  • If you’re born to be hanged, then you’ll never be drowned
  • see you then
  • etc.

Final thoughts

Then and than are very similar in spelling, writing, and even usage. So it is hard to understand how to solve this “then than” puzzle every time, but not impossible.

You just need to understand the differences between different parts of speech they usually represent. And, of course, use intelligent grammar checking software to get help in solving this task.

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