One of the hardest things for non-native English speakers is learning to use the correct English words. In spoken English, we often use the wrong words and mix up the meaning of what we're trying to say. For example, if you're talking about the weather, you might say “It's cold out there,” when actually you meant “It's chilly outside.” Or you'll say “I'm going to the store” when you really mean “I'm going to the market.”
These types of errors are easy to commit and hard to detect. That's why some language teachers suggest using software that can scan your speech and flag when you use the wrong words or words with the wrong meaning. Luckily, there are also a few words that are more difficult to combine than others. For example, if you say “I'd like to go to the concert,” it's pretty clear that you mean “concert” and not “parade” or “show”. So let's take a look at the differences between the words then and than and how to properly use them:
“Then” and “than” are both prepositions that are used to compare two things. For example, “This song is better than that one.” “The movie is better than the book.” In the sentences above, “this” and “that” refer to songs and movies, respectively. The preposition “than” is followed by a noun or a pronoun. So, in the sentence above, “better” is the noun that is being compared to “that one” and “the movie” is the noun that is being compared to “the book.”
When you use one of the words above, you are comparing the two things it is followed by. If you try to use the other word as a standalone, it will most likely have a different meaning. For example, “I like jazz. Than what?” “I like classical music. Than what?” If you want to use “than” to compare two things that are not followed by another noun or pronoun, you will need to use “than” in its comparative form (i.e., “than this, than that”). In the sentences below, “than” is used as a comparative form of “then” to show that something is more or less than something else:
To create a more complex comparison, you can chain two or more preposition phrases or clauses together. For example
In the sentences above, the words “from beginning to end” are followed by “than,” so this is a comparison of the whole experience. In the first example, “this university” is being compared to “that university,” and in the second, “this concert” is being compared to “that concert.” The order of the preposition phrases or clauses does not matter, but the meaning of the comparison does. When comparing two things, use “than” or “less than” to show which one is greater and which one is lower.
“Then” and “than” can also be used to compare cultures. For example, “We are more cultured than them.” “Their culture is more primitive than ours.” You can use “than” with a noun or a pronoun to compare two people or cultures. For example:As with most English grammar topics, there is more than one way to say the same thing. One important thing to note about comparing cultures with “than” and “less than” is that you are comparing all the aspects that make up the culture. You are not saying that one aspect (i.e., “their way of cooking”) is better than another (i.e., “our way of cooking”).
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The nouns or pronouns that are followed by “than” are used as the object of a comparison. So, in the examples below, “jacket” is the object that is being compared to “shirt” and “watch” is the object that is being compared to “necklace”:
As with the concept above, the order of the preposition phrases or clauses does not matter, but the meaning does. In the sentences above, it is clear that “jacket” is being compared to “shirt” and “watch” is being compared to “necklace.” When you use “than” with an object, it usually implies that the item being compared is from a different category or class than the one the object is being compared to. This prevents any possible misunderstandings or misinterpretations. For example, if you say “This shirt is better than that one,” it could be that you're actually comparing the shirts' color or style, not the overall quality. When using “than” with an object, make sure that the object being compared is of a higher quality than the one it is being compared to.
If you want to compare different colors, use “than” in its comparative form (i.e., “than this, than that”). Just make sure to use the same colors for both comparisons. Otherwise, it will be difficult to tell which one is “more red” or “more yellow”:
In the sentences above, the colors “red” and “yellow” are being compared to one another. The order of the preposition phrases or clauses does not matter, but the meaning does. When comparing two colors, use “than” or “less than” to show which one is greater and which one is lower.