English is full of words that may have identical or nearly identical sounds and spellings but vastly different grammatical uses. Some examples of words like this include “two”, “to”, or “too”. What about “then” and “than”? What is the difference between these two words and how are they are actually used in proper English grammar?
Although “then” and “than” look a lot alike, their usages are completely different. In the case of the word “then”, there are numerous meanings. “Then” can mean ‘at that point in time’, such as “I wasn’t able to take the phone call then”. “Then” can also mean ‘next’ or ‘afterward’. This usage is for describing a series of events. For example, “I went to the bank, then I went to the store to buy food with the money I withdrew”. A third meaning is ‘in addition’, ‘on top of that’, or ‘also’: “The coffee is only one dollar, then tax”. Finally, ‘then’ can be used with ‘if’ clauses, such as: “If you want dessert, then you’ll have to finish your vegetables”.
In the case of the word “than”, this word is used as a conjunction strictly for comparisons. For example, ‘the brown dog is faster than the white dog’, or ‘this mistake is more common than you might realize’. If someone were to ask you if your friend is taller than you are, you would reply “Yes, he is taller than I (am)”, using both the correct conjunction as well as the correct object pronoun.