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As far as I know, then is used in a conjunction and in time-related sentences; than in all other cases. I believe that these are correct:

  • Because I'm older than she, I should be the first chosen;
  • I loved her and then she died;
  • If it rains [then] it pours;
  • I've had more then enough;
  • Would you rather be a mouse then a rat?
  • Who, other than you, likes the color red?

Or not? Can someone help me out clearing the mud? I think I'm 90% there, but I like to finally understand it completely. If you have other uses of then/than that I missed, please add yours.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Because I'm older than she, I should be the first chosen.

I loved her and then she died.

If it rains, then it pours.

I've had more than enough.

Would you rather be a mouse than a rat?

Who, other than you, likes the color red?

When there is a comparison, you use than; then means:

  1. at that time; at the time in question: I was living in Cairo then | [after preposition] Phoebe by then was exhausted | [as adjective] a hotel where the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was staying.
  2. after that; next; afterward: she won the first and then the second game.
    • also; in addition: I'm paid a generous salary, and then there's the money I've made at the races.
  3. in that case; therefore: if you do what I tell you, then there's nothing to worry about | well, that's okay then.
    • used at the end of a sentence to emphasize an inference being drawn: so you're still here, then.
    • used to finish off a conversation: see you in an hour, then.
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So, you are saying than is only used with comparisons, so all others should be then? Or do I oversimplify? And in the if..then case, then means "in that case", right? – Abel Aug 18 '10 at 16:23
@Abel: Yes. Actually, "than" is used also in expressions introducing an exception or contrast (he claims not to own anything other than his home), or indicating one thing happening immediately after another (scarcely was the work completed than it was abandoned). – kiamlaluno Aug 18 '10 at 16:37
Interesting, esp. your last example, because it seems to indicate time and thus, should be written with then. But this then, is an exception or special case, or the meaning is just different than I'd imagined (as a non-native English speaker)? – Abel Aug 19 '10 at 17:49
@Abel: It's a special case, which is an exception of the normal meaning of the word. :-) The cases I reported in the comment are exceptions; if you remember what I reported in the answer, you should use the right word more easily. – kiamlaluno Aug 19 '10 at 18:20
"Scarcely was the work complete than it was abandoned," is not a correct sentence. The way 'than' is used in that sentence is "No sooner was the work complete than it was abandoned." In this sentence 'than' is used because it's a comparison. 'Than' doesn't have any special meaning for things happening immediately after other things. – bames53 Jul 21 '14 at 14:48

Two corrections:

  • I've had more than enough.
  • Would you rather be a mouse than a rat?

"rather... than..." and "more than" are fixed expressions.

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are fixed expressions >> if I may: looking at @kiamlaluno's answer, I'd say that they are comparisons ;) – Abel Aug 18 '10 at 16:22
@Abel: fair to say. – RegDwigнt Aug 18 '10 at 16:27
More than and rather than are still comparisons. They are idioms as well, but still comparative. The one that may give rise to some confusion is rather than, in which case rather is the comparative of an archaic adverb rathe 'soon, quickly'. Thus 'I would rather have X than Y' is literally identical to 'I would sooner have X than Y', albeit that they are often used in different senses. – Anonym Feb 20 '14 at 20:45

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