Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ask the Editor: And then?

This post was first published here on April 8, 2010.

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.
Susan went to the store. Then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. She, then, 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.

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 authorblogger, 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.


  1. Grammar rules are always in flux. People talk the way they want to, and trying to write with perfect grammatical correctness according to a century-old 'rule' just makes a book sound stilted and awkward. The really big one is the use of contractions. Way back when, books didn't have any competition from TV, radio, movies, etc., so they could set a standard like that. Not to mention that they were also expensive, and the well-to-do were the main consumers of them, so 'proper' language usage was a must. Today an entertainment vehicle that tells people they talk wrong is one that ain't gonna get read.

  2. Thanks for this great answer, Helen! I read your advice "then" decided to keep doing it my way. But hey--if a publishing house actually wanted to expand my spare prose in order to publish it, they can have all the extra "ands" they want!

  3. Good explanation. I've been eliminating all my "ands" to keep the flow going, but perhaps sometimes I should not.

  4. What is you left out the "she" in the sentence? Could you say, "Susan went to the store, then hurried home to cook dinner"?

  5. I agree with Mason,and his sentence flows better.
    The use of and then may be correct, but it sounds clunky to me.
    Why not write: Susan went to the store before she hurried home to cook dinner.

  6. You could do that, Mason - most definitely.

    If you're going to break a rule, one place to do it is in dialogue. We break rules all the time when we talk - your characters will sound more "real" if they do it as well (as long as it fits their personality).

  7. Thanks for this, Ginger. I've battled with the same thing. I write YA, which gives me the leeway of using 'then' as a conjunction. The funny thing is my critters in the past have deleted my 'and' when I used it with 'then'. At least I know know the proper rule for when I break it.

  8. A very useful answer to a great question. Thanks.

  9. Stina, I think that's very telling. You write YA and use 'then' instead of 'and then'. If this is what young kids consistently read, it will become almost the 'rule' by the time they grow up.

  10. You are so right to say grammar rules change too, they are not written in stone as some believe.

  11. I'm with you, Helen, I never use and with then. I also try to minimize my use of then. I've had editors tell me it's lazy writing :)

  12. Okay, we can have lazy days of reading in the hammock, LJ, but no lazy writing. ;-)

  13. Not only do grammar rules change, its seems that house rules are being added more quickly than ever. There is a definite move away from commas, for example, in many publishing houses. Oh, and while we're talking about all those "thens", remember that we don't need to add an apostrophe unless we want to be possessive about it. Or we're G.I.'s and working for the New York Times because that's their house style.

    I do babble on, don't I? LOL.


  14. Another grammar rule that's in flux is where to put the period - inside the quote marks or out - when it's not ending something someone is saying but, for example, a term.

  15. Mason,
    You can write the sentence in the way you indicated but without the comma because you have used no conjunction.

    "Susan went to the store then hurried home to cook dinner."

    would be the correct way to write such a sentence.

    Elsa Neal
    Blood-Red Pencil

  16. Useful stuff. I was considering buying a writer's grammar do's and don'ts book, but then after reading your blog I realized... I could keep that 15 bucks after all. That link for the Guide to Grammar and Writing was helpful too. Thanks.

    (Notice how I used 'then' -- after the conjunction, but not in its place)

    -- Dominique

  17. Good post, Helen!

    I've been one of those grammar-rules-are-meant-for-breaking-types since I was twelve.

    BUT I learned in my twenties that it's best to show you can write well, so I completely agree with always using correct grammar unless it doesn't work for dialogue, audience or style.

  18. It's refreshing to see a grammarian admit that rules can, and often do, change over time. I also appreciate the recognition that a writer's approach to such rules should depend on the nature of what she is writing.

    P.S. This blog is awesome.

  19. Amen to this post. Here you solve the "and then" confusion in a clear way, and you explain that the rule is in flux (as a freelance editor, I agree with you by the way).

    I found a typo, though! In "well-know grammar pages," you're missing the "n" in "known."

    Take care!

  20. I can't find anything hard and fast on this- so need help.
    In dialogue we get away with a lot. So, I am hoping this is correct:
    "Fun it is then." (Sarcasm)
    Do I need a comma after "is?"

  21. 368, yes, a comma after "is" would be accurate, because you can switch the position of "then":

    Then, fun it is.

    (See this post on commas for more detail.)

  22. I have read on many sources that using "and" and "then" is wrong. That "and" means "also" and "then" means "next," so you don't need them together. "And" suggests that you are doing something at the same time (baking and cooking) whereas "then" means that you did something at a later time (baking then cooking). I was taught to take out all of the "ands." Also, on Word it will tell you the "and" with "then" is wrong. Confusing little language isn't it?


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