This is one of those spelling errors that I know everyone has seen. I see it at least once a week. And like many common mistakes, this one is rooted in the fact that so many English words sound similar, and are spelled similarly as well.
So how can you remember the difference between then and than?
THEN, like WHEN, is a time word.
In other words, then will always give information about when something happened. Then is used to describe the order of a sequence of two or more events:
First he ate breakfast, then he brushed his teeth.
She clicked the key fob, then opened the car door.
You put your right foot in, then you put your right foot out; you put your right foot in again, then you shake it all about.
If I eat the entire batch of cookies, then I would have a stomach ache. (This last one sometimes trips people up, because it's cause and effect: If/then. But think of it as two events in time that are linked. First comes the cause, then the effect.)
So what is than used for, you ask?
THAN is a comparison word.
For example, it can describe the difference between two nouns, between different statuses, or between different time periods:
She can read faster than he can.
This flower is prettier than that one.
The restaurant looks different than it used to.
And just to show how complicated things can get:
He smells better than he did (comparison) back then (time sequence), before he showered.
Hopefully you know more now than you did at the start of this post! Happy editing!
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