Working on the copy edits of BAD PENNY today and passed the 75% mark to general rejoicing.
You normal folks may now go back to work. For you passionate grammarians, my fab copy editor marked a hundred uses of “then” in my manuscript.
No, I wasn’t having issues with the then/than confusion.
I was having issues when using “then” when tying two clauses together. The question: did I always have to use “and” with “then”?
EXAMPLE 1: “Frank backed out of the parking stall then rumbled out onto Dewar Drive.”
Was “then” naked without an accompanying “and”? Should I make it read as “Frank backed out of the parking stall and then rumbled onto Dewar Drive”?
And if it doesn’t need the full “and,” does it need at least a comma for a miniskirt so it reads “parking stall, then rumbled out onto . . .”?
EXAMPLE 2: “The tension ratcheted up, then Senor Zombie’s eyes slid to the side.”
Can you use “then” as a coordinating conjunction? Or must it always be used with “and,” as in “the tension ratcheted up, and then Senor Zombie’s slid to the side.”
I looked in the Chicago Manual of Style. I looked in Garner’s Modern American Usage. I could not find the answer. So I emailed Annette Lyon, author of There, Their, and They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar From The Word Nerd.
Saint Annette’s response:
Your first example is correct as is, with no AND: “Frank backed out of the parking stall then rumbled out onto Dewar Drive.”
The only time you grammatically need AND before THEN is if we’re connecting two independent clauses, because THEN isn’t one of the conjunctions that can do that. You’ll find those in a text box in the book, and they include AND, OR, FOR, NOR, YET, BUT, SO.
The only issue in the above sentence is whether to use a comma before THEN. The current stylistic trend is to leave out the comma, so you can leave it just like you have it above. Some people balk at that and want the comma for the pause it provides. Depending on the house style guide, that may be something you can argue, or maybe it won’t be. Neither is really grammatically more correct; the comma before THEN is more of a style issue.
In the next example, we do need AND or some other conjunction from the list, because both sides of the sentence are independent clauses. So this would be wrong: “The tension ratcheted up, then Senor Zombie’s eyes slid to the side.”
But this would work: “The tension ratcheted up, and then Senor Zombie’s eyes slid to the side.”
To avoid the issue altogether, we can rephrase it. A couple of variations:
-The tension ratcheted up when Senor Zombie’s eyes slid to the side.
-Senor Zombie’s eyes slid to the side; the tension ratcheted up. (Semicolons replace conjunction + comma)
Rules of thumb:
-If you’ve got 2 independent clauses, don’t use THEN as the conjunction. Add AND or another one.
-It the sentence has just 1 independent clause, THEN is enough by itself.
Thank you, Annette.
And wouldn’t you know, I opened A Wanted Man by Lee Child, and what did I see? A bunch of then’s illustrating exactly what Ms. Lyon suggested.
“Reacher heard the roar of the shot, quieter than some, but still deafening in a closed room, and simultaneously he heard the wallboard explode above and behind his head, and then he hit the floor, knees first, then his hip, then his side, sprawling, down low behind the counter, out of sight.” (159)
I think all I’m going to see while reading for the next while are the then’s.