Two simple words that can completely change the context of your sentences
Grammar – most people either love it or hate it. Some may even take their love of it to whole new heights, donning the self-appointed cap and badge of Grammar Police. For me, it’s somewhere in between. As an editor, it is my job to make sure things get posted with as few mistakes as possible. I’m no whizz or genius. Sometimes I even get things wrong myself (I’d never make the Grammar Police Force – not that I would want to). But for the most part, I can pick out spelling and grammatical errors and correct them before they get published.
In a given week, I can edit anywhere between 10 and 30 blog posts – and that’s on top of my day job of editing and proof reading other people’s work. After a while, you start to see patterns and commonalities in what people get wrong.
Over the next several months, we’ll post a series of grammar guides that look at the most common mistakes writers make, but today, I wanted to address the most common one I see. Then vs than. If you get these two confused, believe me, you’re not alone. I see this one crop up at least twice a day.
While the two words do sound alike, they actually have very different meanings. Mixing them up in a sentence completely changes the context and meaning.
Take the following sentence for example:
It is far better to give than to receive. This is the correct usage and the meaning is pretty straight forward.
Now let’s switch it up and see what it does to the meaning.
It is far better to give then to receive. By misusing the word here, we have changed the whole meaning of the sentence. Instead of promoting charity over selfishness, we’re now saying ‘why choose? Take them both’.
Here’s a tricky one:
I’d rather cuddle than have sex.
I’d rather cuddle then have sex.
Both are technically right but each conveys a very different meaning. In the first example, the individual is choosing cuddling over sex. In the second example, cuddling leads to sex!
According to Dictionary.com
than is a conjunction
then can be an adverb, adjective, noun, or idiom
But who wants to break out the dictionary every time you need to use then or than?
Here’s some simple tips for figuring out the difference.
Time to compare:
While there are other usages, then generally refers to time, while than is always related to comparison. Or if you want to simplify it even further, then rhymes with when, while compare and than both have an a in the middle.
Sense and sensibility:
Read the sentence out loud. Does it actually make sense?
If you’re still not sure, switch then for next, and switch than with in comparison to.
I’ll eat the cake next. (Makes sense therefore: ‘I’ll eat the cake then’ is correct)
I’ll eat the cake in comparison to. (Doesn’t make sense so ‘I’ll eat the cake than’ would be wrong).
I like cake better next chocolate. (Doesn’t make sense so ‘I like cake better then chocolate’ is wrong)
I like cake better in comparison to chocolate. (Makes sense so ‘I like cake better than chocolate’ is correct)
Learn these simple grammar rules. Then you will be smarter than the average bear.
What other words or phrases trip you up? What things would you like the Grammar Guide to address?
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