Then is not Than is not Then

The term “my bad” grated on my every nerve when I first head it. According to the very authoritative Urban Dictionary it was coined by an African basketball player who spoke very poor English, when he missed a shot and tried to apologise. Out of his mouth came “My bad”. And thanks to the commentators at the time who made a joke of it, it is now ingrained into pop culture.

Now something else is grating on my nerves. Using “Then” instead of “Than”. Once could be forgiveable, almost, but I’m coming across this more and more. First I’d see it in someone’s post where you can virtually discard it as a product of today’s typical status-writing slackness. Then it would appear in a meme where someone uses Photoshop’s text feature to create a pretty graphic of a nice funny quote or something. I would have thought people would go to more effort to make these grammatically correct. Apparently not. Expecting too much, maybe?

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I decided to research solar panels so I could find the best one to smack across the head of anyone misusing the English language to help counteract the 42% rise in my recent energy bill, but that’s a story for another post. I found on one page at the website of one particular solar panel supplier exactly 6 uses of “then” that should have been “than”. Here they are:

If the green generation line is higher at any point then the red consumption line, you are generating a surplus of power, and hence feeding that electricity back into the grid.

Although both the average consumption and generation curves for a given individual home will be slightly different then depicted in this graph, this is more or less a representative example.

But because it is often producing more at any given time then the household can consume the 3kW system exports a total of 6.02kWh of energy to the grid.

In winter, the expected solar PV average generation curve is slightly lower then in summer, reflecting the lower intensity of the sun. Note that on a cloudy day generation will be much lower then depicted.

But because it is often producing more at any given time then the household can consume the 3kW system exports a total of 4.02kWh of energy to the grid.

I could also comment about the missing commas but I won’t – this time. To be fair I should list all the correct uses of “then” and “than”:

The rest of the time, the average household uses more than the solar PV cells can produce.

…rates for exported solar power that are lower than retail electricity rates…

Sorry, not all, I meant both. 6 incorrect, 2 correct. Not a good ratio.

For reference reasons and not for promotion, here is the page in question (which contained the above errors on 27 Jan, 2013, 1100 UTC)

Short of having mandatory job interview questions like “Please use the words, than, then, they’re, their, there, refuse, refuse, re-fuse, four, for, threw, through, taught, taut, talk, torque, pore, pour, effect, affect, accept, except, isle, aisle, aloud, allowed, pole, poll, alter, altar, curb, kerb, bare, bear, cereal, serial, practice, practise, compliment, complement, stationary, stationery, council, counsel, draft, draught, lose, loose, assent, ascent, principal, principle, story and storey in a sentence”, I don’t know what we can do.

A recent rant by BrainSnorts about his language peeves, included suggestion for remembering how to use them.

Use Then when it’s related to Time

Use Than when Comparing

Also, maybe teachers should use bigger hammers.

12 thoughts on “Then is not Than is not Then

  1. Vanessa-Jane Chapman

    It’s SOOO annoying isn’t it. Then/than is up there with misuse of apostrophes as the most annoying. Along with using ‘of’ instead of ‘have’ – “You should of told them about it”, and also their/there/they’re, those are particularly annoying. And of course your and you’re. I could go on…

    Funny you should say about the job interviews because in our department we’ve set up a little test that we give at interviews (for any admin type positions) where we have written a piece with lots of errors in it, and they have to go through it and mark all the errors (manually, so they can’t cheat by using grammar/spellcheck on Word!). Some of the ones we get back are quite shocking.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Yes, it’s definitely up there. I have a boss who says “should of” etc. It’s terrible. I don’t feel that I should correct him, somehow. I’m on thin ice as it is with our technical disagreements!

  2. alesiablogs

    We are losing a generation to the computer assisting them for every little thing…It will go downhill further I am afraid. I love the computer, but I know both world–with and without….No other generation will know this.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Exactly right. I was going to reply to your comment with paper and pen just to make a point and then realised… no, that’s not going to work. Ha ha! 😉
      Computers were invented by lazy people, for lazy people and that only breeds more lazy people.

  3. Nicola Higgins

    I’d be very impressed if anyone could use all of those words in one sentence. Apart from possibly the one you used…

    But on a more serious note, it’s one of the things that annoys me, too. I especially hate it in fiction, because it jolts me right out of the story and back to reality. Not a good thing for an author to do, and yet surprisingly common.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      It would certainly be a challenge!
      I haven’t seen it that often in fiction. Once or twice maybe but far more lately in examples like the one above. There seems to be an overall slackness on online copy quality in general. It’s as if people think because the text is in a digital and relatively easy-to-edit format that proofreading and reviewing isn’t as important and can be fixed later if necessary. Maybe true but it doesn’t happen that way. Once it’s out there no one bothers to fix it.
      I was told “Congraturations!” recently after registering some software online! But that could simply be an Engrish problem. The list goes on…

      1. Richard Leonard Post author

        Practise is a verb possibly more acceptable in the UK and Australia, according to dictionaries. Surprising but apparently true.
        Draft/Draught: Again, UK makes a distinction, North America does not.
        Here in Australia we lean towards the UK for languagey things, being the mother country and all. Which is why you’ll catch me spelling colour, neighbour, odour, etc. with a ‘u’.

  4. emilydiamonds

    Do you think this misuse is due to ignorance or do you think it is due to not being taught the difference?
    I genuinely think that if people were corrected that they would feel embarrassed and take note.
    I for one and always embarrassed when I make mistakes but I know it isnt uncommon and I am so grateful when someone proof reads and lets me know.

    I can completely understand when it is a slip of the mind, I do this all the time and write things that I don’t mean. For example, if I were writing this thinking about something else I have to do today I may have written, right instead of write. Could this be the case SOMETIMES with people who use then and than?
    Albeit I see where you are coming from with your example, it has been misused so much that you can see they just dont realise they are wrong.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Well, there’s certainly some ignorance in there somewhere because it’s wrong. I’m not sure if people aren’t being taught correctly because they are two completely different words with different roots that happen to be 75% similar. No, my first thoughts were that the culprits might originally have been non-English speakers and have heard the words before seeing them in print, and perhaps not picked up the difference in sounds between the ‘e’ and ‘a’. Then once seeing them in print, assumed they were interchangeable. I thought I once saw a forum post where someone actually said the words are interchangeable but I seem to have lost it.
      The odd slip of the mind or typo can be recognised and forgiven but when it’s repeated like this it’s obviously a misunderstanding of the facts.

  5. jumbledwriter

    I hate to sound pompous, but it always surprises me when I see these mistakes. I thought people knew better. Sometimes I am not sure which is worse offense: knowing the correct word usage, but typing too quickly and not caring–or not knowing the difference at all due to lack of proper education? Both seem harmful.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Bad apples versus bad oranges?
      And the problem is people who don’t know (or care) any better see the mistakes as correct usage and propagate the problem and it spreads faster than the desperate attempts to stamp out the behaviour.


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