Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Then they found more than a dozen dictionaries

Everyone messes up homonyms once in a while. But there are some pairs of words that trip up a great number of people more than others. Then and than are one example of a pair you are likely to regularly spot wrongly used. Amazingly, it's a pretty common error in newspapers (see this example of "less then" from the Detroit Free Press, among the 523 stories with that error currently found on Google News), an industry which at one time in the 20th century showed the way with their stewardship of the English language.

It's not difficult to get it right -- if you stop and think for a moment, you can get it correct every time. Just remember this: then refers to time, while than is used in comparisons:
  • If ever there was a time, then this is it; if you want to die, then by all means leave a candle burning in your living room.
  • Items in this store cost less than a dollar; it costs less than you think.

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