WoW: Now, About Then

Welcome to Wordsmithing on Wednesdays, when I share a tip from my days as an editor.

Then.

It’s a small word, one I’ve seen used often in printed books and believe is sometimes overused. I’ll go so far as to suggest that it be added to one’s Weasel Words List (those unnecessary words that sneak into our writing and weigh it down) and targeted for deletion in most cases.

Why?

Oftentimes then is used in places it’s not needed, as in the following example.

Kathryn hopped in her shiny new Porsche, threw it in gear, and then raced to Starbucks for her morning caffeine fix.

The sentence works just as well without the word then.

Kathryn hopped in her shiny new Porsche, threw it in gear, and raced to Starbucks for her morning caffeine fix.

The reason then isn’t needed is because the reader understands that A) Kathryn got in her car and B) put it in gear before C) she drove to Starbucks.  The time sequence makes the order of the events clear, because I listed the items in the order in which they occurred. A happened first, B next, and C last.

The above example is easy to follow because we’re familiar with the steps involved in starting a car. However, if we writers keep our time sequences clear by presenting the items in the A, B, C pattern, in most cases we don’t need to use then, even when the steps aren’t as familiar to the reader as those in the example above. Here’s another sentence to illustrate the point.

Rob grabbed a bite to eat, got some cash from the ATM, and ordered the tux, aka penguin suit, he was being forced to wear as a groomsman at his brother’s wedding.

The reader understands that the tasks Rob took care of occurred in the order in which they are listed without adding the word then before the third one.

. . .

Now, I’m going to be bold and tackle another aspect of the word then, one not everyone knows.

Then is not a conjunction. Then is an adverb

Why is that important?

Because then is not a conjunction, grammatically it can’t serve to connect two independent clauses. However, I see this done in printed books all the time. Here’s an example (of my own creation) to illustrate what I mean.

Brianna reconsidered Alec’s offer of a trip to Alaska, then she texted him to say she’d be happy to go on the cruise with him after all.

In this example, then is attempting to serve as a conjunction linking the two parts of the compound sentence. However, since then is an adverb, it needs to be paired with a conjunction, as shown below.

Brianna reconsidered Alec’s offer of a trip to Alaska, and then she texted him to say she’d be happy to go on the cruise after all.

. . .

Now, since I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough about then, I’ll stop. I realize a person can only take so much grammar at one time. 🙂

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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8 Responses to WoW: Now, About Then

  1. Wendy says:

    I love that–a person can only take so much grammar at a time.

    I’m also quite fond of that little wavy thing right about where I’m leaving this comment.

    Thanks for this lesson. I’m editing like a mad woman so I’ll have to look out for this.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Sherrinda says:

    Ahhh, the “then”. What a funny little word. I love reminders like this!

  3. Oh my gosh. Have you been reading my mind, or my manuscript? THEN is my crutch word. It drives me crazy. I have way too many of them. I go back and cut them and usually still have too many. And I’ve been guilty of using it as a conjunction in the past. I think I’m better with that now, but I have to be careful or it will slip back in. Thanks for this post. It was great.

  4. Hey Keli!
    I “love” weasel words (and I love that phrase). It’s so gratifying to remove them AND then read how much more smoothly a sentence or paragraph reads. I’m sure you’ll talk about other weasels in the future but some of mine are: that, just, even, so, about, and back. And, I really needed the reminder that then is an adverb–I misuse the conjunction form far too often.

    I love Grammar Wednesdays–lol!

  5. Susan Mason says:

    Hi Keli,

    Guilty, guilty – yes, I am. Will try to keep an eye out for those pesky “then’s”.

    No wonder my word program always highlights it as a grammar error! Who knew!

    Thanks,

    Sue

  6. Carla Gade says:

    I love this! You taught me some things I didn’t realize about “then”. I’ll look forward to this feature each Wed. Thanks, Keli!

  7. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. This “Grammar Geek” is eating them up. 🙂

  8. Aghhh! You hit my weakness bang on! I just had one of my novels critiqued and there were all these and then’s to eliminate. How did you know???

    Thanks for the timely reminder. 🙂

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