I am baptised

Yes, people really do this!

When I first came across this request, I could scarcely believe that my correspondent was serious...this person wanted me to explain when it is correct to use then and when it is correct to use than.

Frankly, I was amazed. Are there really people who stumble on this one? Less than a day later, reading some articles on the net, I discovered that it is a real problem. There are a number of grammatical or vocabulary problems which were previously unknown to me. This is one of them, and I can fix it quickly. So hold tight, here we go...


This is used in comparisons. David is older than Matthew. Christopher is younger than than Matthew. That's about it. You can't give many more examples than that before it starts to get tedious.


There are two uses for this one. One is to indicate that one event happened after another. I got up. Then I put the kettle on. Then I checked my email. Then I made the coffee. Fairly straightforward, I thought.

You can get bogged down a little by the next one. This is the one that goes with a condition, and can also be wrapped up with the other word else for what happens when the condition is not fulfilled. For example: If it is Thursday then I get up at five o'clock else I get up later. If I am feeling thirsty then I make a cup of coffee.

If I may wander away from the main subject for a moment, there is the time-honoured problem of the "dangling else" which is something that happens when there are two conditions. If I am thirsty then if Viv is home then I make coffee else I eat bread. Under what conditions do I eat bread? The "dangling else" problem can possibly be solved by people looking carefully at the sentence, but it's more of a problem for computers trying to make sense of programming languages. Several solutions have been implemented by different programming languages. If this were a computing course then I would write more about this.


Well, I don't think this is part of the problem at all, because people won't mix this one up with than or then (I hope!) but it does give me a chance to pose an interesting question which various people have asked. If you're not sure, thin refers to something very slender, which is not, for example, thick or fat.

The question I am addressing is one which is on many of the lists poking fun at our beloved English language: Why do a slim chance and a fat chance mean the same thing? It's an interesting question, but unfortunately I don't believe it's true! If we say that something has "a fat chance" then we are suggesting that it will not occur, whereas "a slim chance" indicates that we believe it is very unlikely, but still possible.


As the father shared the money between his sons, he can only have had two, so each received five hundred thousand dollars. If he had had more than two sons, he would have shared his money among them.

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