Better Than Then

Saving English One Word At A Time.

An English tutoring column by Ralph Schatzki who would like you to join him in the task of saving the language, step-by-step, word-by-word, one person at a time.

More on Homonyms

Better Than Then. Many mistakes in written English usage are the result of confusing one homonym for another. -Let's try to fix that!

The Confusion

Many mistakes in written English usage are the result of confusing one homonym for another: using "here" instead of "hear," or "there" instead of "their," for example.

Today's piece (not "peace") is concerned with two words that sound almost alike, yet are not strictly homophonic- although, in certain dialects their pronunciations can be virtually identical, so perhaps they can be called quasi-homophones.

These are the words "then" and "than."

The Difference

Let's quickly examine the difference between the words. "Than" is simply paired with an adjective to compare two things:

"Joe is stronger than Mary."

"Then," on the other hand, is a word describing when something occurs following another:

"Put on your socks, then your shoes." It is useful, too, to remember the simple construction from logic, "if-then," describing how if one thing happens then another can (or will).

The Poor Cousin

"Than" is the poor cousin in this relationship. It is the one that gets short-changed, its more popular relative usurping its rightful place in the language. What one often sees is a sentence such as,

"Basketball is a better game then baseball."

Clearly, the writer means to say he prefers basketball to baseball, so this is a comparison and "than" would be the proper word choice.

The good news, I suppose, is that "than" is seldom- if ever- misused, so if you are tempted to write it then you are probably correct.

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About Column Contributor

Ralph Schatzki

A proofreader, editor, author, math teacher and tutor, professional opera singer, ex-lawyer (by his own choice), sports fan, husband and father. He has lived on both American coasts, as well as in the southwest and midwest, and overseas in Thailand for more than thirteen years. He loves to read, write and perform, to watch sports, and to spend time with his family.
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