“Then” and “than” look and sound similar but they mean very different things.
THEN is an adverb, referring to a certain time, or “when” something happened or will happen. For example:
- “Let’s meet at 3 pm.”
- “Sounds good! I’ll see you then.” (“then” = 3 pm)
- “I had dinner and then went to bed.” (“then” = after dinner)
- “The clouds were pretty and white, but then they turned gray and dark.” (“then” = later)
- “What happened then?” (“then” = after turning gray and dark)
- “It began to rain.”
THAN, a conjunction, connects other words or phrases that are often comparisons: “bigger than,” “earlier than,” “less common than,” etc.
English learners often confuse “than” and “as”.
Here is the difference:
THAN is used to compare things that are different in size, weight, importance: “better than,” “more difficult than,” etc.
- New York is bigger than Boston.
- Your coffee tastes better than mine.
AS … AS is used to compare things of equal size, weight, importance: “as small as,” “as good as,” etc. For example:
- I like the beach as much as the mountains.
- John’s apartment is not as small as Andy’s.
- Different than vs different from – both forms are standard and acceptable
- Bill’s shirt is different from mine.
- Bill’s shirt is different than mine.”
- Taller than me vs Taller than I
- Sarah is taller than I. (This is wrong. It sounds old-fashioned and is rarely used.)
- (standard) Sarah is taller than I am.
- (new standard) Sarah is taller than me.
THAN is also used with “rather” to state a preference:
I would rather travel by train than by plane.
“Rather than” is used by native speakers more often than “prefer,” which has a more formal sound. The American musician Paul Simon uses “rather than” several times in this song (with lyrics), which begins, “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail.”