Won the Science Fair, Flunked the Spelling Bee


From the website of a Sanford, Fla., pharmaceutical company specializing in dermatology products:

Our criterion for marketing a product is simple:

  • It must work better then any other product
  • It must be safer then any other product
  • Patients will be able to afford it

Admirable goals, all. But this is what happens when you write like you talk or use phonetics instead of a dictionary to direct your spelling. I don’t know who first started pronouncing than as then, but I’m pinning it on Valley Girls.

Then is primarily an adverb (the part of speech that modifies a verb, adjective or other adverb), and its meaning is “at that time, immediately or soon afterward, or next in order of time.”

Than is primarily a conjunction (the part of speech that serves to connect words, phrases, clauses or sentences), which is used

  • to introduce the second member of an unequal comparison
  • 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.
  • to introduce the rejected choice in expressions of preference.

The easiest way to remember the difference between these two: then refers in some way to time. Than refers to comparison.

(You get bonus points if you also noticed in the above example that criterion is singular. Criteria is the plural form and should have been used.)

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