‘Then’ vs. ‘than’: Knowing the difference

One word is used for comparison and one is used to indicate a sequence of events. Know when to use which.

Like many other PR Daily readers, certain writing errors annoy me. For example, I can’t stand the misuse of “comprise” and “compose, or using a hyphen when a dash is called for. I hate seeing the word “irregardless.” Over the last several months, I’ve noticed a very basic, obvious error with greater frequency.

What is wrong with this sentence?

The emergency medicine director said taller people with broad shoulders do need larger protective garments then the universally sized ones available.

How about this one?

It usually takes less time to walk from this hotel to the park then it does to take the shuttle.

Both sentences are from articles found in mainstream articles and both contain the same conspicuous error: using the word “then” instead of “than.” Granted these two words sound alike, but this is basic diction. Here’s the difference.

“Than” is a conjunction used to compare things.

She is older than I am.

Brian is a better writer than John.

Editing is easier said than done.

So, in the example cited above, the sentence should state: “The emergency medicine director said taller people with broad shoulders do need larger protective garments than the universally sized ones available.”

The second sentence should state: “It usually takes less time to walk from this hotel to the park than it does to take the shuttle.”

“Then” has several meanings, but none of them are comparative. In general, “then” is used in relation to time and the order in which events occur. It can also be used to refer to a result:

I would like to meet for drinks, then have dessert. If you need to read, then go read. I’ll see you then. Now and then, we go to the movies.

PR Daily readers, are there any other obvious writing errors that you’re seeing more regularly? Care to share them?

Laura Hale Brockway is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com. (Image via)

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