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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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Correct Use of “Rather Than”

  1. summer

    This is by far the best article, clearly articulating when to use the infinitive or -ing form following “rather than.” I have referred to so many authoritative grammar references, and even Google, but none has explained it as clearly and simply as you have. Thank you so much for the help!

  2. How about the following sentence, which can not be explained using your rationale.” Don’t use part of God’s words to support what you want, rather than allowing its entirety to shape your wants.”

  3. Elizabeth

    thank you, it’s a very clear explanation.

  4. Arvind kaushik

    Fabulous explanation sir!!!
    In above explanation you mentioned parallel comparison, sir i have a sentence
    “None of the diplomats at the conference was able either to comprehend or solve the problem.”

    Here what should be correct usage to comprehend or to solve the problem OR the given sentence is correct.

  5. Sabrin

    Which is used first the correct one before “rather than” or wrong one.like I like football rather than swimming. (I prefer swimming ) so the structure is ok or not.plz tell me

  6. Hey Editor
    Thanks for the lucid explanation. Need a more little help here. I am certain about comparing verbs in p[ast tense using “rather than”,
    Which one is correct?
    1) I ran on the ropeway rather than swim in the river.
    or
    2) I ran on the ropeway rather than swam in the river.
    I understand that there are a couple of neat hacks for avoiding this:
    1) I preferred running on the ropeway rather than swimming in the river.
    2) I chose to run on the ropeway rather than swim in the river.
    Thanks a lot agian!

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