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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.

3 Answers 3

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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.

(See also the definition of then given in the Oxford Living Dictionaries.)

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  • 1
    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, 2010 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).
    – apaderno
    Aug 18, 2010 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, 2010 at 17:49
  • 1
    @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.
    – apaderno
    Aug 19, 2010 at 18:20
  • 1
    All of these constructions (the grammatical ones, anyway) are comparative (sooner, other, older, more, rather). Than can only be used in a comparative construction. No comparative, no than. Dec 20, 2016 at 3:04
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Two corrections:

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

Both “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, 2010 at 16:22
  • @Abel: fair to say.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 18, 2010 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, 2014 at 20:45
0

Then is time related, like you said. It divides two (or more) occurrences. Example below.

Jack went to the shop, then he went to his grandmother.

Than is a word we use when comparing something. If something is more or less than something else. Examples below.

Jack is stronger than Cole.

.

Cole is weaker than Jack.

Also, then is always preceded by a comma or an "and" (unless you're speaking about the word itself). Than is never preceded by a comma.

Hope I was clear enough.

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  • I don't think there's always a comma before then, see the first answer for examples.
    – Abel
    Mar 27, 2018 at 20:52
  • True, I forgot to say it's either a comma or an "and".
    – A. Kvåle
    Mar 27, 2018 at 21:17
  • that decision was taken by the then president, shows up as first example in Google. Or just then she walked in, or back then, he was my neighbour, or apart from then, what about now . The beauty with language is that there are often more exceptions than rules.
    – Abel
    Mar 27, 2018 at 21:24
  • In the first example, "then" is used as an adjective to describe the president as not now, but back "then". Another version is "then-currently". The others a kind of phrasal, but I see what you mean, and I should've elaborated on possible exceptions.
    – A. Kvåle
    Mar 27, 2018 at 21:33

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