Then and Than

Then/ThanReading slowly has its advantages. In general, I’m a good copy editor. And I know what you’re thinking: if that’s so, why are there so many typos on your website?

There are two issues here. First, there is the cleaning paradox: people never see the spot you cleaned, only the spot you missed. In other words: typos stand out. What’s more, you probably miss five typos for every one you do see. (Be honest: would you have noticed if I had used “everyone” in that last sentence?) Second, I don’t copy edit this site; I read through the article once and if it seems okay, I click the “Add Item” button.

Major Publishers

Recently, I’ve been noticing a lot of errors in books by major publishers. In particular, I have noticed a lot of mix-ups with “then” and “than.”

This is the kind of stuff that separates the good editors from the mediocre. Everyone knows to check their “there/their/they’re” and “two/too/to” and “for/fore.” But they seem to forget about this one. And it drives me crazy!

So let’s get this straight. “Than” is mostly a preposition. It is used to compare objects: he is smarter than I; not, he is smarter then I. “Then” is mostly an adverb. It is used to sequence things: he got the job I wanted, then he got the girl; not, he got the job I wanted, than he got the girl. (I know: it doesn’t feel like an adverb; it modifies got: he then got; it describes how he got the girl: after he got the job. Confused? Good.)

I have problems hearing words with great clarity. This has caused all kinds of problems throughout my life, many of which I deal with to this day. And yet, the words “then” and “than” are very clearly distinguished for me. You do this, theeeeen you do that; you’d rather do this thaaaaan that. I don’t know if that will be helpful to other people. The other obvious suggestion (one I don’t find very helpful in my own life) is just to memorize the difference.

I’d like to see this confusion go away. It really does annoy me more than it ought. But I suspect that if I read all the articles on this site, I would find that I’d made this mistake many times. Feel free to email me any you notice.

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