Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history; and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.
Pronunciation and Spelling are Important
American English can be a difficult language to learn and use, and this is true of American-born residents as well as of international people who have come to our country. English grammar can be tricky to learn, especially when one cannot pronounce the words "then" and "than" differently.
Because of hearing, listening, or speaking problems, many people misuse and substitute the words "then" and "than" for each other, even feeling that they sound exactly alike. However, these are two entirely different words:
- THAN is related to the concept of comparison, as in comparing two things, people, or ideas.
- THEN is always related to the concept of time.
THAN and THEN are a pair of the most often misused words in the English language. Sometimes the mistake comes from only a spelling error - typing or writing an "e" instead of an "a." in
"Then" indicates time. "Than" indicates a comparison.
Sometimes, the then-or-than grammar problem among younger students results from not having been able to hear the difference between the sounds of the "e" and the "a" in the classroom. This causes them to use the wrong letter in both spelling and pronunciation now and later, when they grow up.
Some of these individuals pronounce both words the same way because they cannot form the correct sounds and may need speech therapy.
Sometimes the sound that comes out is a cross between THAN and THEN and no one can tell which word was said. Then, the sentence is understood from the context of the words around THAN or THEN. This could be done purposely to avoid someone correcting the speaker's grammar, or it could be only a habit.
A similar habit is writing an "i" and an "e" next to each other to both look like the "i" and then placing the dot in between the two letters. It is well known that this is an old trick.
The trick often enables avoidance of learning to spell "ie" and "ei" words correctly.
As adults, many people never have or take the time to fix these grammar, spelling, and pronunciation problems. Spell checking and grammar checking programs associated with computer word processing come in handy to help with this.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
— Mohandes (Mahatma/Little Soul) Gandhi
Remember These Easy Facts
- THAN rhymes with CAN, BAN, DAN, FAN, MAN, PAN, RAN, TAN, VAN.
- THEN rhymes with HEN, BEN, DEN, MEN, PEN, TEN, YEN.
THAN is comparing at least 2 things or ideas:
- "I can do anything better than you can. I can do anything better than you." - From the musical "Annie Get Your Gun."
THEN means something about time:
- Not now, but I can do it then. (THEN = at that point, at a later time in the future).
- I paid the bill, but then found out I forgot to pay the extra surcharge. (THEN = a future time)
- Go to the corner and then turn right and you will find the post office. (THEN = next).
- If you want dessert, then you must eat your vegetables. (THEN = in that case; if ...then).
A Pronunciation Exercise I Devised That Works
If you or someone you know has trouble with THAN and THEN, you can practice aloud and/or in front of a mirror. Really exaggerate the difference in the sounds between the short "a" and the short "e."
Open your mouth wider when you practice saying THAN and make a mental note of how that feels as you say it.
Open your mouth less when you say THEN and remember how that feels.
Practice saying THAN 20 times - take your time and don't rush. Notice how saying the word makes your mouth and face feel. Then relax and take some cleansing breaths. Next, practice saying THEN 20 times and relax.
Then continue the exercise this way in the following pattern.
Say this sequence out loud:
- THAN. Repeat 10 times out loud.
- THEN. Repeat 10 times.
- THAN 5 times.
- THEN 5 times.
- THAN 3 times.
- THEN 3 times.
- THAN 2 times.
- THEN 2 times.
- Finally, say this sequence out loud:
THAN, THEN, THAN, THEN, THAN, THEN, THAN, THEN, THAN, THEN.
This is a lot of facial exercise, so if you become too tired to continue, quit and pick it up again tomorrow. Start at 10 times each and work your way down top the last sequence. Go as far as you can each day until you can complete the entire exercise out loud. It will be like weight lifting - you'll become stronger at the exercise every day.
After you have accomplished this exercise and feel confident, try saying each word as you write it or type it, 10 times each.
This should help!
Than Or Then? - Try This Song.
Take this Fun and Easy Free Communication Test
Other Interesting Rules for English Grammar
- Frustrating English Grammar: Which Is Correct: "in-Person" or "in Person"?
Which phrase is correct in proper English grammar–"in person" or "in-person"? Is it an adjective or an adverb? The answer depends on context.
- Grammarics.com. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
- Grammarist.com www.grammarist.com/usage/than-then/ Retrieved May 17, 2013.
© 2007 Patty Inglish MS
amjad on October 17, 2010:
It is really good example to understand difference between than and then. I have done a lot of mistake to using to these word. Now I feel it will me to use correct with right spelling with the context too.