Correct Use of “Rather Than”


Which choice is correct? Please explain your reasons.

“Rather than . . . the truth to them, Peter takes pleasure in deceiving the family and receiving credit.”

a) breaking
b)to break
c)break

Thanks.

Answer

This is a great question, and it is one I don’t often see. On the other hand, it reflects a concept that confuses many people: parallelism.

Correct use of “rather than” 

“Rather than” indicates a parallel structure in which two things are compared. To be grammatically correct, the two things being compared need to be equal, meaning they have the same grammatical structure or form.

Here are two simple examples to demonstrate the parallel structure created by “rather than.”

Example 1: “He enjoys driving rather than walking.” In this example, “driving” is being compared to “walking,” both of which are gerunds.

Example 2: “I would rather drive than walk.” Here, “drive” and “walk” are being compared. With the “rather than” expression divided, it is simple to see how “rather than” indicates a comparison.

Here is a slightly more advanced example that gets closer to your question. “Rather than repair the car, I prefer to buy a new one.” This sample compares “repair” to “to buy.” When using “rather than” to compare something with an infinitive, and when the “rather than” expression is in an introductory descriptive phrase, use the base infinitive without the “to.”

Now that we see how “rather than” creates a parallel structure, let’s look at your question. 

Answer to “rather than” question

“Rather than XX the truth to them, Peter takes pleasure in deceiving the family and receiving credit.”

In your question, we are comparing Peter’s choices for actions. His chosen, or preferred, actions are “deceiving” and “receiving.” To create the required parallel structure, we contrast these –ing verbs (participles) with another –ing verb: “breaking.”

Thus, the correct answer is A, “breaking.”

The other answer options

Option B, “to break,” could not work in this sentence structure, but option C could work if we revise the sentence.

If we write, for example, “Rather than [to break] the truth to them, Peter prefers to deceive the family and receive the credit,” we are making a comparison to the infinitive “to deceive.” As explained above, the simple infinitive (without “to”) is the correct choice when comparing to an infinitive. Thus, we would write “Rather than break the truth…,” which is option C.

Two strategies for using “rather than” correctly

One strategy for using “rather than” correctly is to split the expression, much like I did in the second example above. We can revise your sentence as follows: “Peter would rather deceive the family than break the news to them.” The parallel structure matches “rather deceive” with “than break.” This strategy will work with –ing verbs if you include a helping verb, as in “I would rather be writing than be singing.”

A second strategy useful for –ing verbs (and most other examples) is to move the “rather than” phrase to the end of the sentence, as follows:
“Peter enjoys deceiving the family rather than breaking the news to them.” Here, the comparison of “deceiving” with “breaking” is more obvious.

Other types of parallel comparisons

Using “rather than” is similar to using “either / or” and “not only / but also” expressions. In these comparative expressions, the first part must be grammatically parallel to the second part.

“Either / or” example: “He will either break the news or deceive the family” (comparing “break the news” with “deceive the family”).

“Not only / but also” example: “He will not only break the news but also receive the credit” (comparing “break the news” with “receive the credit”).

Closing

I hope that this long-winded answer helps. Thanks for the great question about using “rather than” correctly.


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