Using rather

Rather is used to talk about preferences.

  • Don’t come today. I would rather you came tomorrow. (= I would prefer you to come tomorrow.)

After would rather we usually use a past tense with present or future meaning.

  • ‘Would you like something to drink?’ ‘I would rather have something to eat.’ (= I would prefer to have something to eat.)

Rather can mean ‘more precisely’.

  • He arrived late last night, or rather, in the early hours this morning.
  • He ran, or rather staggered, to the finishing line.

Rather than

This expression is mostly used in parallel structures. That means we use it with two adjectives, adverbs, nouns, infinitives or –ing forms.

  • I would rather spend my time traveling than working.
  • We ought to invest in education rather than defense.

When the main clause has a to-infinitive, rather than is usually followed by an infinitive without to. An –ing form is also possible.

  • I decided to wait rather than leave. OR I decided to wait rather than leaving.
  • He must learn to shoulder responsibility rather than leave everything to fate. (OR … rather than leaving everything to fate.)

Rather can mean ‘indeed so’ in short answers.

  • ‘Are you comfortable?’ ‘Yes, rather!’

Rather as a degree modifier

Rather can suggest ideas such as ‘more than is usual’, ‘more than was expected’ or ‘more than was wanted’.

  • Do you see that rather tall boy standing over there?
  • She speaks English rather well. (= She speaks English remarkably well.)