Basics of writingConfusing words

Which word?—THEN, THAN / THAT, WHO


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From Rick:

Which of the following sentences are correct?


She is someone that I went to school with.

He is shorter then me?

I’m positive he’s the one that I saw standing outside the bank before it was robbed.

I’d rather go to the movies then do my laundry.

His dog is the one who bit me.


Guess what? ALL of them are INcorrect, and the sad thing is that I see writers using incorrect sentences like these all the time.

For some reason, I seem to see “then” being used in place of “than” rather than the reverse. And I see “that” used in place of “who” a fair amount, but again rarely the reverse.

Let’s tackle that/who first. Knowing when to use “that” or “who” is really simple: use “WHO” when referring to a person/people, and use “THAT” when referring to things or non-people. (For the record, intelligent aliens and animals with human-like intelligence are “who” not “that.”)

Why do people get these wrong? I suspect it’s simply easier to use “that” for everything than to have to think about it.

But here’s an alternative view that gives some leeway:


And for the more technically inclined, here’s another reference that adds “which” to the mix.



Now, let’s tackle the “then/than” issue. I assume one reason that so many get these two wrong is that they sound so similar. In our speech, we don’t always differentiate the “e” and “a” clearly in the two words, and we end up writing the way we speak, which gets some writers into trouble when they don’t check their work, don’t know the difference, and don’t have someone edit the piece afterwards.

How can you remember which word to use? “Then” rhymes with “when” and refers to a time. Note the time sequence in the sentences below.

>>If you come over tonight, THEN we can study together.

>>Jason and Dave went to the mall, THEN they went to the movie.

“Than” is used in comparisons.

>>My silk shirt is softer and lighter THAN my cotton shirts.

>>I’d rather go out with Susan, THAN go out with Mary.

Let’s revise that last sentence to show the difference between the two words:

>>I’d rather go out with Susan tonight, THEN go out with Mary tomorrow night. (You’re going out with both but in a specific time sequence.)

>>I’d rather go out with Susan tonight, THAN go out with Mary tomorrow night. (Mary invited you out tomorrow night, but you’d prefer to go out with Susan tonight—possibly a complicated relationship situation here.)

I hope you see the difference and understand why it’s important to use the correct word. It can totally change the meaning of the sentence.

I’ll end here, a short post this time because the last couple were rather long.

I’ve put a link below to a previous post on this blog of some other word confusions you might find interesting, in case you haven’t looked over past posts.



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