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English Grammar and Exercises for ESL learners.


It is often difficult for learners of English to know when to use 'rather', 'rather than' or 'would rather'. The explanation below should help clarify things.


'Rather' is an adverb of degree like ‘fairly’, ‘quite’, etc. that can be used with nouns, adverbs,
adjectives and superlatives.

 • That’s rather a nuisance!
 • He cooks rather well.
 • She’s got a rather nice voice.
 • That’s rather more than I expected to pay.


When we want to correct what we have just said, or make it more precise, we often use
the expression ‘or rather’.

 • His son is a doctor, or rather, a surgeon.

To talk about preferences there are two structures: 'rather than' and 'would rather'.


• It would be better to go in September rather than in August.
• I prefer to leave now rather than wait for all the speeches.
• He decided to write rather than telephone.

The expression ‘would rather’ is followed by the bare infinitive e.g. the infinitive without ‘to’.

Would you rather live here or go back to London? I’d rather live here.
(= I would prefer to live here.)
• I don't want to go to the swimming pool. I’d rather go to the beach.
(= I would prefer to go to the beach.)

To say that one person would prefer another to do something, ‘would rather’ is generally
followed by a past tense.

• Don’t come on Monday. I’d rather you came on Tuesday.

To express regret about something that has already happened, ‘would rather’ is followed by
the past perfect.

I’d rather you hadn’t done that = I wish you hadn’t done that.

-ING forms:
When the main clause has a verb in the –ing form, ‘rather than’ can be followed by –ing.

• I prefer getting up early rather than rushing at the last minute.

Be careful to note the following:

I'd rather + bare infinitive usually means 'I'd prefer', as in the following example:
◊ I’d rather have a cup of tea. = I’d prefer to have a cup of tea/I'd prefer a cup of tea.

BUT, with certain verbs - like/enjoy/appreciate - the meaning changes:
◊ I’d rather like a beer = I’d quite like a beer /I would enjoy a beer.

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