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A reader writes:

“Should I use ‘then‘ or ‘than‘ in this sentence? What is a hotter ticket ____ a ticket for the Elton John concert …”

Another reader wtires:

“I tell folks that ‘then‘ is time-related (‘back then‘ or ‘then we did that’); ‘than‘ is used to compare things (‘better than‘).”

This is a good tip.

We could really have fun and mess with the original question, thinking back to a wonderful time in music, by saying:

“What was a hotter ticket then than a ticket for the Elton John concert?”

We still follow the rule … using then to refer to time and than to compare.

Now, how about this little helpful tip/trick: Then rhymes with when (refers to time). Than has an a in it and so does compare.

then. adverb.
1. at that time: Prices were lower then. 
2. immediately or soon afterward: The rain stopped and then started again. 
3. next in order of time: We ate, then we started home. 
4. at the same time: At first the water seemed blue, then gray. 
5. next in order of place: Standing beside Charlie is my uncle, then my cousin, then my brother. 
6. in addition; besides; also: I love my job, and then it pays so well. 
7. in that case; as a consequence; in those circumstances: If you’re sick, then you should stay in bed. 
8. since that is so; as it appears; therefore: You have, then, found the mistake? You are leaving tonight then. 

then. adjective.
9. being; being such; existing or being at the time indicated: the then prime minister. 

then. noun
10. that time: We have not been back since then. Till then, farewell. 

than. conjunction
1. (used, as after comparative adjectives and adverbs, to introduce the second member of an unequal comparison): She’s taller than I am. 
2. (used after some adverbs and adjectives expressing choice or diversity, such as other, otherwise, else, anywhere, or different, to introduce an alternative or denote a difference in kind, place, style, identity, etc.): I had no choice other than that. You won’t find such freedom anywhere else than in this country. 
3. (used to introduce the rejected choice in expressions of preference): I’d rather walk than drive there. 
4. except; other than: We had no choice than to return home. 
5. when: We had barely arrived than we had to leave again. 

than. preposition
6. in relation to; by comparison with (usually fol. by a pronoun in the objective case): He is a person than whom I can imagine no one more courteous.

Source: Dictionary.com (see usage note)

UPDATE: We found this paragraph on a wikiHow article. It needs a “than” in place of an “as” because the writer is making a comparison. Take a look.

(click here for the real story)

“A recumbent bike is any bike where the rider is in a reclined position. These bikes are more comfortable to ride (once you get used to it!) and faster because of reduced wind resistance. However, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to balancing, starting, stopping and maneuvering a recumbent bike (as there is with an upright bike) but once you nail it down, you’ll wonder why more people aren’t riding them!”

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We were just reviewing a business proposal …

“It’s a win-win preposition.”

Guess that would be a perfect deal for writers and readers alike.

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Punctuation is a device used to assist the reader. Punctuation is defined as the practice or system of using certain conventional marks or characters in writing or printing in order to separate elements and make the meaning clear, as in ending a sentence.

Today’s subject: “end marks:”

1.        the period “.”

2.        the question mark “?”

3.        the exclamation point “!”

1. A statement is followed by (ended with) a period. Periods follow declarative sentences, sentences that make statements. Further, a declarative sentence containing an indirect question is followed by a period, not a question mark. “A reader asked why that is.”

The period is often used for terminal purposes when a sentence is not involved, as after numbers in a list:

1.        there is

2.        a period

3.        after each

4.        bullet number

In addition, the period is used to terminate many abbreviations: e.g., i.e., Mr., Dr., Ms., Rev., etc.. (Did you notice the “double period” there? the first period is to terminate the abbreviation “etc.,” and the second period is to complete the sentence.)

Our favorite … possibly overused … is the three periods … used to indicate the omission of one or more words or sentences in a quotation: “I pledge allegiance … to the republic …” Notice this additional period which terminates a sentence in a longer quote: “Shakesperare was born in 1564. … He married Anne Hathaway in 1582.”

2. Why is a question is followed by (ended with) a question mark? Again, to make meaning clear to the reader. Let’s look at examples:

  • A direct question with the word order as an interrogative sentence, “Why did you visit our site today?”
  • A direct question with the word order as a declarative sentence, “A fish can drown?” (This one could also be a statement, “A fish can drown.” (ended with a period).)

Remember, though, that a declarative sentence which contains an indirect question is ended with a period. “Someone asked us what keeps readers coming back.”

Here’s a twist … Readers sometimes ask us, “When are you going to post a new poll?” In other words, “we are often asked when we will post a new poll.”

3. We want to make a strong expression of feeling about this end mark! We caution against using the exclamation point to indicate only mild emotion. Most writing guides suggest that the overuse of exclamation points will dull the effectiveness of the mark. This is not nonsense! We totally agree!! Pay attention!!!

Helpful sources:

Warriner, John E., Mary E. Whitten, and Francis Griffith. English Grammar and Composition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965.

Hopper, Vincent F., Cederic Gale, Ronald C. Foote, and Benjamin W. Griffith. A Pocket Guide to Correct Grammar. New York: Barron’s Educational Service, Inc., 1984.

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