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Do you think you are smarter then me?

While this question should be using than...I have to wonder if this is a debatable topic within English or is this cut and dry? If this specific instance is indeed cut and dry are there any instances on the usage of then and than that would cause a hot debate amongst English professors?

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lollercoptermatic –  chaos Mar 1 '11 at 17:48
    
It seems that more then is a particularly common error when more than would have been correct. –  Henry May 8 '11 at 16:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 34 down vote accepted

There is no ambiguity between when to use then and when to use than. It is purely a phonologically driven error that people make when they are writing, because often the vowel in than is reduced, causing then and than to sound similar or identical (depending on your accent).

Note that it is possible for the improper use of then in place of than to lead to an unintended meaning:

I am more interested in taking a nap than going to the party.

The above means: I prefer a nap over attending the party.

I am more interested in taking a nap then going to the party.

This one means: I prefer taking a nap, and afterwards attending the party.

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+1 for explaining that the similar or identical pronunciation is what usually leads to confusion. –  Andy Mar 1 '11 at 15:07
    
In my example question would the meaning be..."You are smarter, with me following behind"...versus the comparison result of using than? –  Aaron McIver Mar 1 '11 at 15:28
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@Aaron: Yes, that is true; it could be interpreted that way. I think most people would assume a then/than swap in your example sentence (just by weighing the likelihoods), but it is possible to interpret it that way. (And, if you are strictly interpreting the sentence without allowing for the possibility of typos/mistakes, then technically it is the only way you can interpret it.) Not every then/than swap will have two interpretations though — sometimes swapping will just lead to a broken sentence. –  Kosmonaut Mar 1 '11 at 15:34
    
I wonder what those people who confuse the two words would think if you said I'd rather take a nap then go to the party. I suppose they'd have to rely on intonation (or in writing, the possibility that you might add a comma). –  FumbleFingers Nov 3 '11 at 22:14

The two words are quite distinct. In the example sentence, than is certainly correct while then is wrong.

There is a construction however in which there could be confusion.

Hardly had he laid his head down on the pillow than the phone started to ring.

Here than means the phone started to ring immediately after he laid his head down, and this could be confused with then, since then can be used to mean something happening after another.

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The correct way to write this is:

Do you think you are smarter than me?

"Than" is a conjunction or preposition, whereas "then" is an adverb, noun, or adjective. I do not believe there is a situation where they are interchangeable.

A brief explanation which illustrates the differences well can be found here.

(I originally suggested that it should be written "Do you think you are smarter than I?" I rescinded it because @Kosmonaut pointed out that many people use "me" instead. His comment links to 2 discussions on the subject. I don't believe that "I" is incorrect, but most people probably wouldn't find fault with your using "me" instead, and I don't want to derail this thread any more.)

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Your claim about I/me is just not true in any actual usage. Perhaps it was arguable several hundred years ago, but certainly not in the past century. Those who insist on I in that situation are "forcing it". We're not speaking Latin. Related 1 and related 2. –  Kosmonaut Mar 1 '11 at 15:06
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@Kosmonaut: The accusative is more common now than the nominative, but that doesn't make it more correct. In fact, I appear to have already had this debate with @NoHat. Should I edit my answer to reflect this? –  Andy Mar 1 '11 at 15:12
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Do you like English more than me or do you like English more than I ? –  mplungjan Mar 1 '11 at 15:20
    
@Andy: What, then, makes it more correct? (Or, from another angle: why should the always-more-common me be wrong at all? We know why it was declared by some to be "wrong" originally — Latin doesn't do it.) –  Kosmonaut Mar 1 '11 at 15:22
    
@Kosmonaut: I don't know if anything makes it more correct. Some English teachers would probably say you should use "I" instead of "me", but just being an English teacher doesn't mean you're always right, either. I edited my answer, but left in what I originally wrote. Thanks for pointing this out. –  Andy Mar 1 '11 at 15:32

It's cut and dry: people who use "then" in a comparison are spelling it wrong. I can't think of a situation where there's any ambiguity about the choice between then and than; they're completely different parts of speech.

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