Be Careful with “Then”

Lately I’ve been warning writers to think twice about using then.

One problem is that too many writers try to join sentences with a comma + then. Nope! Only the seven FANBOYS words (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) can be used that way. So…if you’re joining sentences with then, make sure to use a comma + and or but:

Bonnie set the table, then we sat down to eat.  COMMA SPLICE

Bonnie set the table, and then we sat down to eat.  CORRECT

Another problem is that overusing then gives your writing a childish feel:

Cara opened a cabinet and reached for a box of Fig Newtons. Then she paused for a moment, put the box back on the shelf, and closed the cabinet door.

The sentences flow better without then:

Cara opened a cabinet and reached for a box of Fig Newtons. She paused for a moment, put the box back on the shelf, and closed the cabinet door. STRONGER

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I’ve talked to many writers who have never thought about strong sentences. To them, big words, complicated syntax, and long sentences = strong writing.

It takes time (and some convincing!) for them to appreciate the energy and power you can pack into a short, straightforward sentence – if you know what you’re doing. More about this in a future post!

 

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