Then vs. Than

Scribd has many online books. I try to read at least one book every week. Starting to read a new book is always fun. The sense of anticipation builds up while the search for a new book is still in progress. The novelty of the new text reaches out of the first few pages, trying to grab my attention. Then there are times that something like the following jumps out of the page to annoy me:

Object-oriented programming is the current cure-all — although it has been around for much more then ten years. At the core, there is little more to it then finally applying the good programming principles which we have been taught for more then twenty years.

— Object Oriented Programming in C


This is one of the most common errors I see in printed books and other forms of written communication. The two words (“then” and “than”) look very similar. Their sound is also very close to each other’s pronunciation. Despite their similarities, however, they are different words. The use and meaning of the two words are completely different.

“Than” is only useful for comparing things. That’s all. No other use of “than” is correct by today’s standards of English usage.

“Then”, on the other hand, is a different little beast. It can refer to:

  1. A point in time:

    Will you be home at 18:00? I will call you then.

  2. Explicit time-ordering:

    Peel a couple of oranges. Then slice them to small bits.

  3. Additional things:

    He told me he was tired. Then he mentioned being hungry too.

  4. Causal relationships or preconditions:

    If you want to play, then you will have to finish your homework.

Remembering all the different types of “then” usage is harder, but it is easy to avoid confusing the two words by remembering one simple rule:

“Than” is only used for comparisons.

This simple rule should make it obvious why the original quote from “Object-Oriented Programming in C” stood out and caught my eye in the first page of the book. What should have been written is:

Object-oriented programming is the current cure-all — although it has been around for much more than ten years. At the core, there is little more to it then finally applying the good programming principles which we have been taught for more than twenty years.

The technical value of a programming book is not necessarily related to little mistakes like this one. Seeing such a mistake at the first page — the very first paragraph — of the book almost managed to put me off from reading the rest though. It’s one of those quirks of my book-lover’s taste. I know it isn’t always right, yet the error was there. Twice! Staring back at me.

An editor should have caught this. One of the reviewers of the book should have seen it. The online PDF copy should be updated to include fixes of such tiny nits. Alas, it’s still there.

Having said that, I’ll definitely give the book another try. Only because adamo, whose opinions and book reviewing expertise I thoroughly respect, has previously written about the same book.

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9 Responses to Then vs. Than

  1. Then vs Than is also covered here, among others:
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/misspelling

    Hope this helps.

  2. Bruce says:

    Two thoughts come to mind:

    1. Misspelling is common nowadays with the use of spell checkers. This makes it hard to tell if the writer truly at fault with the grammar.

    2. People in glass houses should not throw stones. I’m truly surprised you did not catch your own misspell. Different is spelled with two f’s. You have used it in this blog as: diferent. :-(

  3. adamo says:

    IIRC, the author is German and ooc.ps [ooc.pdf] is a translation from the original done by the author. I would excuse minor mistakes like that from someone that does not write in his native language and is not a professional speaker. I am happy though that it triggered you to post a blog.

    Other than that, I have fond memories of the book. I read it sometime around 1995. I never really invested in learning C++ (for somehow intuitively I knew that time spent to learn C++ could be equally spent to learn about more programming models) and at the time the way to do OO in C, was to do it the X11 way. Nobody ever told me that it was possible to do OO in an non OO language and this book was an eye opener at the time (I even won a bet).

  4. Michael Iatrou says:

    This is a very interesting book for introducing OO to programmers with exclusive C background. These days though this target group is under extinction. Anyhow, OCD crisis like this is a rather normal phenomenon for demi-god hackers, so you are excused ;>

  5. Ashish SHUKLA says:

    We need more Donald Knuths.

  6. vasilis georgitzikis says:

    you DO realise that you missed another incorrect ‘then’ in the text, right? :)

  7. manjiki says:

    I can see a post named “who vs. whom” in your future :)

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