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My question is about the use of the form "beheads" in the following sentence from Victor Davis Hanson's essay "Are the Orcs Winning?":

In contrast, Hamas only drives Christians out of Gaza rather than beheads them.

The form "beheads" sounds wrong to me; I would have said "rather than behead them." Now, I don't doubt that Dr. Hanson wrote it correctly; I'm sure he knows much more about language and grammar than I do. My question is, is "behead" also acceptable here? If so, is it a matter of formal vs. colloquial, or British vs. American usage, or what? Also, what would have been a better heading for this question? Is the form without "-s" an infinitive, or a subjunctive, or what?

  • I must be very "linguistically liberal". I don't really have a problem with any of beheads, behead, beheading (though I'd probably use beheading myself). And being a Brit, I'm easy about whether Hamas should take a singular or plural verb form. – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '14 at 21:39
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    Related: Imperative followed by “rather than”? – RegDwigнt Sep 8 '14 at 21:42
  • You’re using a finite verb when you need a non-finite one. – tchrist Sep 8 '14 at 22:08
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Parallel structure between the two options requires beheads. Both verbs need third person, singular, present form.

Which is true? 1) Hamas drives Christians out of Gaza; or 2) Hamas beheads them [Christians]?

Part of the problem is the distinction between the factual and counterfactual. Most negations do not use a simple present form, but use helping verbs instead

He goes to school. She does not go to school.

The speaker is stating Hamas drives ... but also Hamas does not behead ....Instead of using the does not construction, he uses the conjunction rather than to negate. As Merriam-Webster indicates, *rather than can take either infinitive forms or parallel conjugated forms.

  1. — used with the infinitive form of a verb to indicate negation as a contrary choice or wish: chose to sing rather than play violin
  2. and not: obscures rather than resolves the problem

If you wanted to rephrase because it sounds a bit off, you could say

Hamas only drives Christians out of Gaza but does not behead them.

Note that the verb form does in this alternative is the third person singular, present, parallel to drives.

Another alternative is

Hamas only drives Christians out of Gaza rather than beheading them.

  • Acting as a preposition, rather than needs an object, which means it need some sort of substantive, usually a noun but also something that can work like one. If you are going to feed it a verb, then the only way for that to be a noun is for it take either an infinitive or a gerund. That’s why both versions of “She always texts her dates when she stands them up rather than tell/telling them in person” work for this: one is a bare infinitive, the other a gerund. You certainly don’t need a tensed verb. – tchrist Sep 8 '14 at 22:06
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No, behead is not acceptable in that particular instance; it would be a singular rather than a plural. Whether 'Hamas' should be treated as a collection of individuals, who do something or as a group which does something is a fruitful source of argument; there are several questions already on this site. However, if you have already said that Hamas drives people out, the corresponding word is beheads.

The confusion may come from the many constructions possible in the context, and only slightly different. The subjunctive would be It has been suggested that the group drive the people out [next Sunday] as opposed to It has been suggested that the group drives people out [but I haven't seen it myself]. Another possibility would be the gerund, ...rather than beheading them. But as written it is a simple present, which means the ending depends on number.

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