In my newsletter, I told subscribers that if they had a grammar question, they could ask me or post the question here on The Blood-Red Pencil. Kathy Lee Scott, who’s both a dancer and a writer, emailed to ask this:
Is it "and then," or could it be just "then"? One person insisted I make all my "then's" into "and then's." To my ear, it doesn't sound correct. Plus it adds an unnecessary conjunction, in my opinion.Hi Kathy,
Thanks for this very timely question. I say ‘timely’ because I’ve recently heard several people ask this same question. The long-standing rule is you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses. You can zip over to Capital Community College Foundation’s well-know grammar pages where you’ll find grammar guidance as well as a link to “Conjunction Junction” (Scholastic Rock, 1972).
The hard truth is ‘then’ is not a conjunctive (joining word) like ‘and’ or ‘but’ or ‘or,’ so you’re supposed to use it with a conjunctive such as ‘and’ rather than in the place of a conjunctive.
Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.You have two independent clauses: Susan went to the store. She hurried home to cook dinner.
You’re combining the two and showing a sequence: Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.
But why that extra word in there? Why can’t you say:
Susan went to the store, then she hurried home to cook dinner.Because you’re breaking the grammar rule. You could say:
Susan went to the store; then, she hurried home to cook dinner.You can see from those examples that ‘then’ is not a conjunctive, but rather, in reality, a transition that shows time sequence. It is an adverb or a conjunctive adverb.
Susan went to the store. Then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. She, then, hurried home to cook dinner.
Some editors, undoubtedly some right here on The Blood-Red Pencil, will say you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses.
I know there will be those who argue with me, but I say using ‘then’ as a conjunctive by itself is acceptable today. In our everyday lives, we say:
I left the house, then I took the kids to school, then I ran by the cleaners, then I headed to the dentist, the grocery store, exercise class, the bank, then back to pick up the kids, and then, finally, home again.If that’s the way your character talks, then let her talk that way, even if she’s breaking the rule. For now, though, if you’re writing for publication, you might want to stick to the rule in the narrative portion of your manuscript.
Keep in mind, though, that grammar “rules” change over time.
Some editors will not mark an “and then” infraction in your manuscript, even in the narrative. I am one of them, most of the time. I think this rule is in flux.
It hasn’t, however, gone through a complete change and you may find editors at your publishing house who will want you to follow the tried and true rules from the grammar book. If so, go back and add that ‘and’ where appropriate.
Thank you, Kathy, for the great question.
KATHY LEE SCOTT has written dance articles and performance reviews for the online Ballet Dance magazine and articles for several local newspapers. Kathy’s twenty years studying and performing ballet and other dance forms have been an asset to her writing career. A member of the SCBWI and online critique groups, she strives to improve her craft and offer encouragement to her fellow writers. She and her husband share a home with three cats and a dog, nurturing them with classical music.
What’s your take on this question? Do you feel grammar rules change over time? If so, is this one of those that’s in flux?
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of the novels Dismembering the Past and Angel Sometimes, three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe.