"Then", meaning next or afterwards, is among a group of adverbs* that link independent clauses. Style manuals, e.g. the AMA Manual or the Mayfield Handbook, tell us that they should be preceded by a semicolon (or full stop). This makes sense since their function (linking sentences) lies beyond the sentence. However, it may be just as common, if not more common, to find "then" preceded by a comma. Also, "then" can link other elements, namely phrases and words. Excluding patterns with "and" before "then", this is what one can find in the dictionaries (albeit at varying frequencies).

(1) She did X, then she did Y.

(2) She did X, then did Y.

(3) She did X, then Y.

This brings up some questions.

Regarding (1), how is this not a comma splice? Is the second clause a supplement? It is even possible to find examples (the examples I found where in user guides or online help) where the comma is absent. So is "then" functioning as a conjunction or is there an elliptical "and" before "then"?

Regarding (2) and (3), are the structures "did X, then did Y" and "X, then Y" compound structures? That is, again, is "then" functioning as a conjunction or is there an elliptical "and" before "then"? If not, what are the structures beginning with "then"?

*This group is called, among other names, conjuncts by Quirk et al, linking adverbials by Biber et al and connective adjuncts by Huddleston and Pullum.

  • And then is the single phrase that summarizes narrative. There are languages where just about every sentence starts with something that means "and then", As for how stuff afterwards is parsed, it's a clause or it's a phrase -- however the narrative is being laid out. There's no special term for the construction and no special grammar associated with it. Everything depends on the verbs used, as usual. Apr 6, 2023 at 1:07
  • The term in the literature you want is Conjunction Reduction. It refers to non-repetition of auxiliaries, articles, prepositions, pronouns, particles, etc. in conjoined constituents Apr 6, 2023 at 1:16
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    The commas in 2 and 3 are superfluous in writing styles (She ate dinner then bathed.). The comma in 1 acknowledges/placemarks the elliptical and — so as to absolve splicing sins for joining independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction. Apr 6, 2023 at 3:01
  • As written, your examples are strictly speaking ungrammatical since the coordinator "and" is required. Note that "then" is best analysed as a preposition, as evident from the fact that we can say "and then". Note that English permits only one coordinator per clause.
    – BillJ
    Apr 6, 2023 at 9:20
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    Does this answer your question? "then" vs "and then" Apr 6, 2023 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


Particularly in informal contexts, then can be used as a conjunction, as TfD notes. It meaning is essentially the same as "and then," but there is no reason to describe this as a case of ellipsis when it can just be analyzed as a separate conjunction in such sentences.

  • I think this is most common when the phrases being connected are short. It feels more like a list than a narrative.
    – Barmar
    Apr 5, 2023 at 22:43
  • "Then" cannot be a conjunction. English only permits one conjunction as marker, and the conjunction "and" is already present in "and then". "Then" is best analysed as a preposition, understood here as "after that". Note that "then" functions here as an adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Apr 6, 2023 at 8:41
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    @BillJ Obviously "then" is not a conjunction in "and then," but I suspect that in this case the words "and then" have joined to create a new conjunction.
    – alphabet
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:07
  • I wouldn't say so. I take "then" to be an adjunct, a separate constituent at word level.
    – BillJ
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:18
  • @BillJ My reasoning comes from sentences like "That building was a pharmacy, then a grocery store, then a pharmacy again" or "She bought, then ate, a whole rotisserie chicken," where "then" does seem to function much like a conjunction meaning "and then" or "and later."
    – alphabet
    Apr 6, 2023 at 11:47

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