There are a whole lot of rules in the English language, and we know this to be true because I write about these rules all the time. And as an author, it's part of my job to follow those rules -- strictly. I must cling to them so passionately, in fact, that I actively and aggressively try to get other people to follow those rules. So it may come as a surprise to some blog readers that there's one rule I break...no matter how many times the automatic grammar checker tells me to fix it. Because when it comes to the phrase "and then," I just don't use it. Nope...not at all.
Born to Be Bad
Microsoft is totally against the way I write. My word processor completely believes that the word "then" cannot be used unless its buddy "and" is also involved. I'll give you some examples of sentences that are sure to be flagged:
She reached across the table, then grabbed my hand in a show of support.
He lifted his hand as if to touch me, then let it fall back down to his side.
Those sentences, you see, are grammatically incorrect. When used in this way, then is a conjunction but it's not a stand-alone conjunction. But stands on its own; then does not. Conjunctions always link a sentence with two or more separate clauses; it links two different thoughts, feelings or actions. Shelly moved on the couch, and then she got the the remote from the side table.
Seriously, though, some rules are made to be broken. I happen to think sentences read just fine even when I break this one. I know it's grammatically incorrect, and I do it in my books anyway. I've never had a reviewer, ever, bring it up.
There are other ways to use then without his pal and, however. In fact, I can alter our previous examples to make them correct and I won't use and anywhere.
She reached across the table. Then, she grabbed my hand in a show of support.
She reached across the table; she then grabbed my hand in a show of support.
He lifted his hand as if to touch me. Then, he let it fall back down to his side.
Or, you could always just add the and.
She reached across the table, and then grabbed my hand in a show of support.
He lifted his hand as if to touch me, and then let it fall back down to his side.
I do none of this, because I think the sentence flows fine without it. I don't break many grammar rules and I don't advocate breaking the rules of language, but over time language is updated. It evolves and changes, and we know this is true because none of us say thou in our daily speech. So if you like the way something sounds and it's true to your voice, maybe it's okay for you to break some of the rules, too.