ANSWER: To help students understand one piece of grammar, it’s often helpful to compare and contrast it with another.
Rather as a single word is an adverb. We use it to express a degree. Usually it lowers the degree of an adjective. For example, if I say she’s rather pretty it doesn’t sound as nice a compliment as she’s pretty. On the other hand, rather can express a higher degree than expected: “I thought it would be cool this morning, but it’s rather warm.”
If we combine would with rather, we get the semi-modal would rather. It helps us express preferences. It’s similar in meaning to would prefer. The semi-modal would rather can appear with the preposition than to show an alternative. Students should not confuse would rather…than with the two-word preposition rather than, which never separates and has the meaning of instead of. I find it logical and interesting to compare these structures because they both link to the concept of alternatives, that is, having a choice. Here are examples to study:
- Wouldn’t you rather go out and have fun? [semi-modal]
- Maybe tomorrow night. Tonight I‘d rather stay home. I need to study. [semi-modal]
- She said she‘d rather stay home than go out. [semi-modal with than as a preposition]
- I decided go out rather than stay home. [preposition*]
- Tonight I think I’d like to go to a movie rather than go dancing. [preposition*]
- I’ll watch a romantic comedy rather than an action movie any day of the week. [preposition]
- I forgot my glasses at home, so rather than straining to see from the back, I took a seat towards the front. [preposition*]
- Seeing a movie rather than dancing at a club proved to be a good choice. [preposition*]
As a preposition, rather than can be followed by a noun, pronoun, or gerund. Examples 5, 6, and 8 demonstrate the need for parallel structure. However, I turn to you, my readers, and ask if you agree with examples 4, 5, 7, and 8. Isn’t it interesting and rather odd (*smile*) that I use a base verb in 4 and 5 and a gerund in 7 and 8? Do you care to offer an opinion on that? Also, I could add one more example, one that sounds correct but seems odd when you begin to analyze the structure: I chose to sit in the front rather than (in) the back. Here I use parallel structure and balance two prepositional phrases. Comments?
This question was submitted by a YouTube viewer, and before I post my answer for learners to study on YouTube, I decided to test the waters here among other teachers. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on the use of rather than.
Please check out Student Stumper 30 to consider an overlap of word classes. We’ll decide if use of the gerund and use of the base verb are correct, and if so, why.