Like every other unemployed day, I started today by reading my email, checking Facebook and Twitter; followed links to interesting articles and read pleasantly whilst sipping my coffee. I was reading this lovely piece from The Atlantic about Accordions in America, and remembering when my local mom-and-pop music store proprietor told me he sells on average one accordion a year, when I came to the following sentence:
“And over the last three years, “we’re almost selling more accordions then we’re making,” Petosa said.”
“Then”. He said. “…more accordions then we’re making.” he said. “Then“.
Now, either he actually said “then”, which makes me sad for him. Or the person who wrote the piece wrote the word “then” by accident, which makes me sad for The Atlantic.
In college, I was one of those pretentious English Majors who cringes at the incorrect use of certain, commonly incorrectly used, words and phrases. We are the sort of people who go on to become lawyers, editors, writers, and teachers. We make (read: amazing) pretentious mugs and tee shirts.
We do not cringe because we are assholes (we’re actually, usually, very nice people; although, be wary of the ones who became lawyers); we cringe because it’s wrong. And not in the we-standardized-language-so-get-with-the-program sort of way, but because each of these words have a very precise meaning and they’re being used incorrectly. “Then” is an adverb, sometimes an adjective, often a noun.
Then adv. 1. at that time; 2. soon afterward; next in time; 3. next in order; 4. in that case; therefore; accordingly: used with conjunctive force; 5. besides; moreover; 6. at that time or at other times. Adj. of that time; being such at that time. Noun. that time.
“Than” is a conjunction. Since we all remember ‘SchoolHouse Rock’:
we know, therefore, that the word ‘than’ is used to link together two parts of the sentence.
Than conj. 1. introducing the second element in a comparison, following an adjective or adverb in the comparative degree; 2. expressing exception, following an adjective or adverb; 3. when: used used esp. after inverted construction introduced by scarcely, hardly, barely, etc
The correct word is, in fact, ‘than’; the sentence: “And over the last three years, “we’re almost selling more accordions then we’re making,” Petosa said” is a comparison. The making of the instruments versus the selling of the instruments. The act of comparing dictates that the word used be ‘than’.
Petosa probably did say “then”. It’s a common mistake, heard often throughout the English speaking world, just like ‘literally’ instead of ‘figuratively’, ‘irregardless’ instead of ‘regardless’, or, my personal pet peeve, ‘supposably’ instead of ‘supposedly’. While it is common practice, we don’t cringe solely because it is grammatically and definitively wrong, we cringe also because it’s ugly. ‘Than’ sounds nicer than ‘then’. And, is this not what grammar is all about?