It’s better to figure this out sooner than later!
Many words in English are commonly confused because of similar spellings, sounds, or meanings. Some of the most commonly confused words are It’s / Its, They’re / Their / There, To / Too / Two, and You’re / Your. English language learners and even native English speakers make mistakes with these tricky terms! Two other such words are than and then. I’ve seen countless students mix these two words up because of their similar spelling and sound. It’s helpful to point out the differences to the class the first time you notice a student using the wrong word.
Meaning: We use than when we want to compare two things.
Structure: Than comes in the middle or near the end of a sentence, before the word, phrase, or clause that is being compared to something else.
Pronunciation: /ðæn/ (The vowel sound is the same as the vowel sound in van, cat, nap, catch, etc.)
Tip: Think of the letter “a” in the word compare. It matches the “a” in than. (compAre – thAn)
- She is taller than him.
- She is taller than he is.
- I would rather work at home than at school.
- It’s easier said than done.
Meaning: We use then to indicate a certain time or to say what will happen next.
Structure: Then has many possible sentence positions, but it is especially common at the beginning or end of a sentence or following a conjunction.
Pronunciation: /ðɛn/ (The vowel sound is the same as the vowel sound in pen, get, them, bread, etc.)
Tip: Think of the letter “e” in the word time. It matches the “e” in then. (timE – thEn)
- I’ll be home by 8:00. I’ll call you then.
- I haven’t had another accident since then.
- First you pour in the milk, and then you stir it all together.
- Then what happened?
Put students into pairs, and have them write a quiz for their classmates. Get them to write 5 sentences with a blank for than or then. Exchange quizzes when all the students have finished and see who can get 5/5!
Find tips on other commonly confused words in 100 Days of Grammar in the Grammar and Spelling & Vocabulary sections.