The word ‘then’ is a commonly used word in English. This is because it has three different meanings. And as we’ve seen with words like ‘get,’ ‘even,’ and ‘anyway,’ words with various meanings are naturally used quite often.

Download Exercise

The first meaning of ‘then’ is the same as ‘next.’ In this case, it’s normally used in the ‘second part’ of the sentence, after we’ve said one action in the first part. Some examples of this are:

  • Ok, let’s finish cleaning the bathroom, then we can have lunch.
  • First I’m going to help John, then I’ll help you, ok Christopher?

The second meaning of ‘then’ is ‘at that time.’ In order to use this meaning of the word, we need to mention some time (whether it’s a day, or a specific time of the clock) earlier in the sentence. For example:

  • I’m seeing Sally tomorrow, so I’ll give her the money then.

In this sentence, the word ‘then’ means the same as ‘tomorrow.’ Of course, we don’t want to be unnecessarily repetitive, and fortunately, to avoid that, we can use the word ‘then.’ Another example:

  • Uncle Steve gets here in ten minutes; let’s surprise him then!

Again, we see that we mention a certain time earlier in the sentence, and the word ‘then’ that comes later in the sentence refers to that time.

The last meaning of ‘then’ is ‘in that case.’ This meaning is very often used in a conditional sentence (a sentence with ‘if’). Some examples of this meaning:

  • If you don’t change your attitude, then I’m afraid we’ll have to dismiss you.
  • If it stops raining, then we can go to the park, ok?
  • She might say ‘no’; what would you do then?

Notice that the last sentence is not a conditional sentence; it does not contain the word ‘if.’ However, note that, in order to connect the two ‘ideas’ expressed in this sentence (the person saying ‘no’, and the resulting action performed by ‘you’), we need to use a semicolon, because we don’t have the word ‘if’ to help us connect them.

Practice what you’ve learned in the exercise!

A. Edstrom

Download Exercise