Editing Tip #92 – The Vocabulary Debate: Then vs. Than

It’s interesting that a debate even exists around word-usage in the context of, “Is this the right word for what I’m trying to say?” I mean, it makes sense to ask this when you’re searching for just the right verb or synonym to encompass your intent. But what about every day words? We all know the old adage: which witch is which and your/you’re/you are; oh! and who could forget the classic their/they’re/there?

But those usage errors crop up more often as typos when we’re racing to get our story out of our head and onto the page/screen.

With THEN and THAN it often comes down to whether/weather or not you were listening when your grade 2 teacher covered it in Language Arts that day. People who don’t (or haven’t) studied the English language will argue quite vehemently that they know when to use then and when to use than… even when they really don’t.

Let me give it to you straight:

THAN – when you are comparing something, one thing versus another

THEN – when you are listing something, placing it in an order

Now you just need to memorize the difference:


I went to bed later than you did.

I would rather eat ice cream in a bowl than on a cone.


Mary went skating with Jake then she skipped out on him with Sam.

I bought a t-shirt and shorts at one store and then a new sundress at another.

Now you are fully prepared to go out and correctly argue when you should be using THEN and when you should be using THAN.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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7 replies

  1. A debate? Really? I know some people just don’t care (’cause they’re idjits), but I had no idea anyone argued in favor of the wrong word being used.


    • Oh yes, Thomas, and passionately so! It’s happened a few times to me now, not with a client but definitely with people (writers!) in the profession. It’s a face-palm moment for sure 😉 especially when most of the arguments revolve around, “but I’ve always done it that way.” I’ve had to learn to just swallow my words and wish them well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Had a friend – ‘had’ is the operative word – who was a nurse. She was telling me one day about a patient of hers who was suffering from ‘prostrate’ cancer. Needless to say, I nearly fell on the floor laughing and, when I could finally breathe, attempted to explain the difference between ‘prostrate’ and ‘prostate.’ She wasn’t going to listen to any of that!

    Yes, sometimes we can only wish them luck.


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