Faith Williams is a freelance proofreader and copyeditor. Working with independent authors, she has proofed and copyedited in romance, thriller, science fiction, and non-fiction genres. Follow The Atwater Group on Facebook or check out the webpage at www.theatwatergroup.com.
As a freelance proofreader, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great indie authors over the past year. I’ve read great stories and gotten a sneak peek at best-sellers. I love my job so much, I feel like I can’t call it a “job” because a “job” doesn’t fill me with the giddiness that I feel every time I start a new project with an author or, better yet, finish it.
But sometimes, after reading and reading and reading, there are words or phrases that become annoying. Most recently, the little voice inside my head has become very unhappy with the word “then.” I have begun to actually hate this word, because it’s abused in two very different ways.
The first offense is starting a sentence with the word in question. “Taking a step, he closed the distance between them. Then he hugged her.” Really? Did I, as a reader, not figure out that after he stepped toward the heroine, that he didn’t stop to answer his cell phone but went directly into hug mode? Did I need that “then”? I don’t think so.
A related pet peeve is the comma splice. This is where “then” is used as a conjunction. “Taking a step, he closed the distance between them then he hugged her.”
Wikipedia says: Coordinating conjunctions, also called coordinators, are conjunctions that join two or more items of equal syntactic importance, such as words, main clauses, or sentences. In English the mnemonic acronym FANBOYS can be used to remember the coordinators for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
Did you see “then” in that list? Me neither. Does this one matter too much? Maybe not. But it still irks me.
The second abuse I find difficult to overlook is the incorrect use of “then.” I know this trips up a lot of people and it’s even happened to me (once in a while, anyway!). When do you use “then” or “than”? If you want to compare something, it’s “than.” Think of the A in compAre and the A in thAn to remember. If you are talking about a moment in time or something that happened next, it’s “then.” Think of the E in timE or nExt and the E in thEn to remember.
More than anything, I hope you remember those little rules, and then you will always know which to use!