What’s the Difference Between Then and Than?
This month’s writing tip is another dive into the differences between two words. This time, let’s tackle then vs than. It’s easy to see why these can be confused, right? They’re practically the same word (in spelling and sound), but they have different meanings and uses. So what’s the difference between them?
When making a comparison, use than.
I thought the general surgery shelf exam was harder than all the other shelf exams.
See the comparison? The surgery shelf exam was harder compared to all other shelf exams, which is why “than” is correct.
Use then when you’re discussing something having to do with time (like something that happens next or at a certain time).
First I’m taking the WHNP certification exam, then I’m going to dinner to celebrate.
She states she had typical cramping and pain with her period but then continued to have pain even after menstruating.
Both examples give information that’s happening in relation to time. The first example talks about a series of events happening in one day, and the second example refers to the pain the patient had after she finished menstruating.
There are a few other nuanced ways to use then. Check out the Merriam-Webster definition to see them, if you’re curious.
Time for you to try some examples:
The fever and other symptoms generally persist for 48–96 hours. Patients will [then/than] feel better for 24 hours before a fever may occur again.
This is explaining how patients will feel next (in time)—then is correct.
The fever and other symptoms generally persist for 48–96 hours. Patients will then feel better for 24 hours before a fever may occur again.
How about this example?
The patient’s family history of prostate cancer and associated risk factors make him more at risk for prostate cancer [then/than] colon cancer.
Is this example making a comparison or listing things in a time-related series or order?
The patient is more at risk for prostate cancer (compared to colon cancer), so than is correct.
The patient’s family history of prostate cancer and associated risk factors make him more at risk for prostate cancer than colon cancer.
One last one:
His parents report he was fussier [then/than] usual yesterday, had a low-grade fever, and did not eat well, but the rash did not appear until today.
This one is talking about a specific time (yesterday) but compares the boy’s fussiness yesterday to how he normally is. Even though it takes place during a specific time, this example shows a comparison: than is correct.
His parents report he was fussier than usual yesterday, had a low-grade fever, and did not eat well, but the rash did not appear until today.
Pretty straightforward, right? In general, use than when you’re making a comparison, and use then when you’re talking about something happening related to time. What words do you often confuse? Leave a comment below—maybe you’ll inspire a future lesson!