Sometimes, you want to tell things in a specific order. When you do, know that you must use words like “then” or “after” to tell your listener what happens and when. Then you need to know how to use them, so should you say “then” or “and then”?
It is correct to say “and then.” You should use “and then” to transition when showing a sequence of events. “And then” is correct for an item later in the sequence but not the first item in the sequence. The phrase signals that you are continuing your list of events or sequences to your audience.
The phrase “and then” lets your audience know to keep listening for what happens after what you just said. So, if you want to know how to use “and then,” keep reading to find out!
What Does “and Then” Mean?
The phrase “and then” is a combination of the conjunction “and” with the adverb “then.” You will usually see “and then” as a part of a transition between two events. Since this phrase consists of two words, we’ll look at them one at a time, starting with “and.”
The word “and” is a conjunction, meaning it connects different parts of a sentence. “And” is a kind of conjunction grammarians call a “coordinating conjunction,” meaning that it can connect independent clauses (source).
The word “then” is a kind of adverb. You use “then” to list something that happens after another thing, such as items on a list or when telling a series of events that happen one after another. For example, you might say that one thing occurred and use “then” to reveal to your audience what happened after that (source).
Together, “and then” sets up the next item in a list or series of events. When you say “and then,” you tell your audience you are about to indicate what comes after your previous statement. In other words, it connects to what you said before and introduces what happens after.
How Do You Use “and Then”?
You can use “and then” when listing sequences. For example, you can add “and then” to let your audience know what is coming last in the list when you want to introduce the last item or event. You can also use “and then” when the list has more than two events or clauses.
When you recount a series of events, you can use “and then.” For instance, you might begin a story like this:
- We drove to the lake, and then we grilled.
In this example, the sequence of events starts with “We drove to the lake,” so we know that this is the first thing that happens. The phrase “and then” points to what happens after that.
In some instances, you will not need to use the comma before “and then.” For example:
- I have to get my kid from school and then mail this package.
In the above example, “and then” brings together are an independent clause, which contains a subject and a verb, with a dependent clause, which usually includes a verb.
In cases where “and then” connects an independent clause with a dependent clause, it is not necessary to use a comma. However, if you connect two independent clauses, you will likely need to connect these clauses with a comma. For example:
- We are going to go to the movies, and then we will get something to eat.
In the above sentence, you see that before and after the phrase “and then,” you have two independent clauses with a verb and a subject. This is because the conjunction “and” allows you to connect two independent clauses with a comma.
Using “and Then” in a Full Sentence
When you use “and then” in a full sentence, you do not typically begin a sentence with “and then,” although you can. Typically, you will want to use it after introducing an action with your verb. The phrase “and then” comes in a series of events or in a list.
Here’s an example of how you might use “and then”:
- I went to the grocery store and then to the bank.
The phrase “and then” tells your audience that you went to the bank after you went to the grocery store. Here are some other examples:
- First, wash the produce and then cut the lemons into quarters.
- Go past this traffic light and then turn left at the next one.
- She went to leave, and then she realized she had forgotten her keys.
Many people believe that it is a rule in English that you cannot begin a sentence with “and,” but Benjamin Dreyer points out in Dreyer’s English that sometimes you might wish to do so. When you do this, you separate the independent clause for emphasis (source).
- She walked up to us and introduced herself. And then, suddenly, she had to leave.
Under the right circumstances, it is perfectly acceptable to begin a sentence with “And then.” Starting a sentence with “and” allows you to emphasize that particular event. Still, it is preferable to do so later in the series of events.
When Can You Use “and Then”?
You can use “and then” when listing items in a sequence. For example, you might use the phrase when giving a series of directions. However, since the phrase begins with a conjunction, you would not use it for the first item in the series.
The phrase “and then” will most often appear in the middle of a list of sequences of events. For example, you might want to give someone directions to your house:
- Take a right at the grocery store and then look for the house with the blue roof.
Or, perhaps you want to recount something that happened to you that day:
- I got in my car today, and then I spilled my coffee.
The phrase “and then” signals what happened after the speaker entered the car. You could tell a much longer story and use “then” to introduce each new event. Again, since the above sentence includes two independent clauses, we used a comma.
Expressions Using “and Then”
There are also a few expressions you might use “and then” in. First, you can use the phrase “now and then” to mean “occasionally.” For instance, if you want to say that you go to the movies sometimes but not regularly, you might say you go “now and then” (source).
You can also use “and then” as a part of the phrase “there and then.” This phrase also appears as “then and there.” The phrase “there and then” is a phrase that means “at that very place and time.” For example, a salesperson might want you to make a decision “there and then.”
“And then” is also a part of the phrase “and then some.” This phrase lets your audience know that there is more than what you have just mentioned. For example:
- This new system could double our profits and then some.
In this sentence, the profits would be at least twice the original amount, but there would probably be more. The phrase “and then some” can let you know that what you just said is an understatement.
In What Context Can You Use “and Then”?
“And then” is appropriate for when you list sequences of events or give directions. You would not use “and then” at the beginning of the series. Instead, you would use “and then” later to introduce a later action.
You can use “and then” whenever you want to continue a series of events. For example, after the events or directions start, you can use “and then” to follow that event with another event. When you use “and then,” you introduce another event.
The phrase “and then” can come in the middle or at the end of the series. Because “and then” tells your audience that the events are continuing, you should not use it to start. Instead, you might say “first” or just begin without using any sort of marker.
When Not to Use “and Then”
There are a few situations where you want to make sure not to use “and then.” For example, do not use “and then” for “if-then” statements (conditional sentences). In these situations, only use “then.” You also might not use “and then” if you want to avoid repetition.
An “if-then” or conditional sentence has two parts: the condition and the consequence. The first part will often begin with “if,” and the second part will sometimes start with “then,” so we call these “if-then” statements (source).
For example, if you want to say that a pie will burn should you leave it in the oven too long, you might say:
- If you keep the pie in the oven too long, then it will burn.
Here, it would not be appropriate to put “and” in front of “then” because it is not just an item in a series but shows a consequential relationship between the first and second parts of the sentence — that is, keeping the pie in the oven causes the pie to burn.
However, The Chicago Manual of Style (6.23) recommends using a comma before “then” in situations where “then” operates in the same ways as “and then.”
- You kept the pie in the oven too long, then it burned.
When listing a sequence, the phrase “and then” does come at the start. Instead, you might begin with something like “first” to let your audience know that this is the start of the events, or you might not use anything at all.
You might also want to avoid “and then” if you had already used it in the same sequence of events. You do not want to keep repeating “and then” every time you introduce a new idea. So, when you have longer series, look for alternatives. Let’s look at some in the next section.
What Can You Use Instead of “and Then”?
Even though you can use “and” with “then,” you don’t need to do so. “Then” works by itself. Again, you can often replace the “and” in “and then” with a comma. You can also substitute “then” with another transitional word or phrase, such as “next.”
For example, you might take the following sentence:
- First, take a right by the Baskin-Robbins and then keep going for a mile.
Instead of saying “and then,” you could say “then,” like this:
- First, take a right by the Baskin-Robbins, then keep going for a mile.
Both are correct. Notice that in the second sentence, we have inserted a comma. You can use both “then” and “and then” in the same sequence to switch things up:
- I went to the food court and then to the music store. Then, I went to Macy’s.
You also might want to use a different word to change things up, especially if you have several items or events to list. If you repeat the same phrase too much, you might lose your audience’s attention. Therefore, think about how you can change up your transitions.
Suppose you want to tell someone how to make scrambled eggs. In your directions, you might say the following sentence:
- First, you crack the egg into the bowl and then whisk it.
This is not the only step for making scrambled eggs, so you still have a ways to go. So, you might try this for the following sentence:
- Next, sprinkle in some cheese.
You can follow up with other words or phrases like “after that.” To conclude the series of activities, you can use a word such as “finally.” Using different transitions will help your sentences to sound less repetitive.
The word “then” is an example of a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs are transitional words or phrases that show the relationship between two ideas. They can show things such as sequence, contrast, and cause and effect (source).
In most of this article, we have talked about how “then” can show sequence, and other conjunctive adverbs show sequence as well. For instance, we have mentioned “next” as an alternative, and you can also end a list of sequences with “finally.”
We have also mentioned how “then” can show cause and effect and how we often call those sentences “if-then” sentences. However, you might also use “therefore” or “consequently” to show a cause-and-effect relationship. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Other kinds of adverbs can show relationships between things. For example, they can show comparison, manner, and degree, among other things. For more on different adverbs, read our article “Is It Correct to Say ‘Thus Far’?”
One of the most exciting parts of hearing or reading a story is wondering, “What happens next?” When you use the phrase “and then,” you let your audience know that they are about to hear or read just that: what comes next.
The phrase “and then” can come in handy for many reasons. Whether you want to tell a friend something that happened or give them driving directions, you can use “and then.” Learning to correctly use “and then” helps you let your audience know to keep listening.