Rather Than

“[Rather than] is usually used in ‘parallel structures’: that is to say, with two adjectives, or two adverbial expressions, or two nouns or pronouns, or two infinitives, or two -ing forms. … When the main clause has an infinitive, rather than can be followed by an infinitive with to (more formal) or without to; an -ing form is also possible. … ‘to invest in new machinery rather than to increase wages’. (Or: … ‘increasing wages’.)” (PEU, PEU2)

“In general terms matching forms are best in the clauses preceding and following rather than.” (NFMEU – Burchfield)

Burchfield called the construction “to do rather than doing” – “with an infinitive in the first clause and an -ing form in the second” – “asymmetrical and therefore undesirable” (NFMEU – “Rather3”), although he relented somewhat in “Gerund3” by calling the construction “idiomatic”. He cited CGEL for correct examples: “She telephoned rather than wrote” and “They were screaming rather than singing.”

However, CGEL notes: “The resemblance between coordination and comparison accounts for the existence of quasi-coordinators such as rather than, which share in the characteristics of both.” (CGEL, p. 911)

Elsewhere CGEL says: “Like as well as and instead of, rather than is a preposition, not a quasi-coordinator, when it is followed by an -ing participle clause that does not match the verb in the matrix clause.

“Their actions precipitated the war rather than averting it.

As well as visiting Niagara Falls, we spent a day in Toronto.

He intends to go as he is, instead of changing into his best clothes.” (CGEL, p. 1006)

The structure “rather than doing, he did” seems to be tolerated by those who object to “he did rather than doing”. In the former, both forms follow rather than and so do not violate the letter of Burchfield’s recommendation. Regarding “round” and “around”, Burchfield said “contextual euphony is perhaps the strongest factor in determining the choice”. This may be the determining unconscious criterion in deciding between rather than + infinitive and rather than + gerund.

American usage does not regard the asymmetrical “to do rather than doing” as undesirable.

Matching forms in the clauses preceding and following rather than

to shock rather than inform (Obs 3/5/98 Life p. 66)

… people cheered rather than shook their fists. (Obs 9/5/99 Review p. 11)

… what people said rather than did … (STim 26/12/99 p. 4.7)

… but this time he amuses rather than terrifies. (STel 13/10/02 Review p. 9)

… direction that drains rather than builds the drama … (STel 13/10/02 Review p. 9)

… it provoked rather than defused strong emotion. (The First Casualty, Ben Elton, Bantam, 2005)

 “Asymmetrical and therefore undesirable”

 Some farmers are so desperate that they are giving their flocks to the RSPCA rather than sell them at prices which are so low that they do not cover the costs of taking the animals to auction. (STim 27/9/98 p. 1.2)
“Rather than sell” implies decision rather than option.

… I respect and admire his films in a somewhat detached way rather than enjoying them. (Obs 7/6/98 Review p. 7)
“Rather than enjoying” suggests option rather than decision.

Think back to the last time you queued in the bank to cash a cheque rather than using your card to withdraw money from a cashpoint. (IoS 14/11/99 Business p. 9)

The sex suffocates the wafer-thin story, rather than illuminating it. (STel 24/10/04 Review p. 1)

… he rapidly frittered away the money rather than investing it in land … (ITim 22/10/05 Weekend Review p. 13)

 Both forms following rather than

 “… rather than waiting for the resurrection, they insist on immortality here and now.” (Obs 7/6/98 Review p. 12)

But, rather than trying to be a part of that revolution, like Gates, Buffett said he tried to find companies … (STim 12/7/98 p. 3.11)

But rather than expressing your horror at pink and frills and so on, simply swop them for something you like in a slightly larger size … (IoS 19/7/98 Real Life p. 11)

Rather than being eased, the stress levels have been cranked higher by EasyJet’s success. (STel 2/5/99 Magazine p. 31)


They would rather we starved than did that. (STel 14/6/09 p. 1.23)

This mischief is more likely the work of a sub-editor than that of the prominent writer under whose name it appears. Context shows that “did” refers to “they”, not “we”, so: “They would rather we starved than do that;” or, more clearly: “They would see us starve before they would do that.”

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