Sticking a then onto the end of a sentence is very much a spoken British English thing to do. It is not the use of then about distant time (I had it then, but I haven't got it now) nor the use that's about logical consequences (If 1+3=4, then 3+1 must equal 4 too), which are universal uses of then--though BrE uses the latter twice as much as AmE does (see below). These might also occur at the end of a sentence, but they're not what I'm talking about. Instead, let's look at some examples from the British National Corpus (BNC).
If you write to them and drop it in that's fine then .It means something like 'in that case'. But to use it in that way in AmE (to me at least) communicates an impatience or accusation.
Let's let's get straight what we are talking about then .
So that is it then .
Come on then and Go on then are things one hears all the time in England, clearly talking about 'the now', rather than 'the then'. Go on then is used for all sorts of things. In this one, it means something like 'give it a try, I dare you':
- Yeah. I could scare you, Auntie June.But in this one it accepts an offer:
- Could ya.
- Go on then
- This tastes lovely! Want a taste?In that case it means something like 'Oh, I know I shouldn't accept your offer, but yes, please'.
- Go on then .
In the spoken part of the BNC, question-final then occurs nearly as much as statement/request-final then (since I'm just searching by punctuation, I can't tell the difference between declarative and imperative sentences). For example (from BNC):
What pub is that then ?Now, I know some Americans will be reading this and saying "but I say things like that", and I don't doubt it. It's not that Americans never put then at the end of a sentence--it's that they don't use it in all the same ways that BrE speakers do, and therefore they can misinterpret BrE intentions. As I said above, when I hear a non-temporal then at the end of a question (or statement), it implies to my American ears an impatience or accusation--or mistrust. But that's not what (in most cases like the above), a BrE speaker would hear. And Americans wouldn't tend to use then in completely sympathetic sentences like the following (from the Mike Leigh film Happy-Go-Lucky):
So What about this then ?
- How was your weekend? - Crap. - Oh, no, why's that, then?
As for numbers, we can start with Algeo's British or American English (I've deleted his source citations for examples, since they're abbreviated to opacity).
In all positions, then as a linking adverb is nearly twice as frequent in British conversation as in American; on the other hand, so in the same use is half again as frequent in American conversation as in British. A distinctive British use of then is in terminal position: Who's a clever boy then? • Well, there you are then.For sentence-final (or "terminal") position, I've got the following figures of occurrences per 100 million words by searching BNC and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):
As you can see, it's not that AmE doesn't put then at the end of a sentence or question, it's that it's done a lot more in BrE. The commonest ground between BrE and AmE is the temporal use like She was happier then, See you then, and What did you do then ('next')? When we search in a context where the temporal meaning is much less likely (in the last two rows), we see the BrE uses of then outnumbering the AmE ones by very large margins indeed.
BrE AmE then . 5824 3173 then ? 4741 1196 go on then . 142 2 come on then . 105 3
What do you think then?
p.s. I know some of you haven't got(ten) into Twitter, but that's where I'm hanging out between blog posts. I've added a Twitter feed gadget to the left, where you can see my most recent tweets, which may include the Difference of the Day.