I found myself with a sentence like this, using "accept" in the infinitive form after "rather than":

They left the club, rather than accept the terms.

But I'm unsure of its grammatical soundness. Conjugating the verb "accept" just sounds wrong:

They left the club, rather than accepted the terms.

The gerund sounds right, but I'm not sure why:

They left the club, rather than accepting the terms.

What is the grammatically correct way of phrasing this sort of sentence, and why?

[SUBJECT] [PAST_ACTION_1], rather than [PAST_ACTION_2]

2 Answers 2


As you've noted, rather than is a bit of a strange beast. I can't offer a complete analysis, but it isn't grammatical to put a finite verb after than in the past tense. Rather, it must be either the uninflected base form or the present participle. The choice between them is partially controlled by the tense of the main verb.

He left rather than watch the movie.

? He left rather than watching the movie. (Sounds wrong to me)

*He left rather than watched the movie. (Always wrong)

From this article, I offer the following quote from the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

The phrase rather than consists of an adverb and a conjunction and often means “and not,” as in I decided to skip lunch rather than eat in the cafeteria again. It is grammatically similar to sooner than in that it is used with a “bare” infinitive—an infinitive minus to: I would stay here and eat flies sooner than go with them.

Rather than can also be used with nouns as a compound preposition meaning “instead of”: I bought a mountain bike rather than a ten-speed. But some people object to this use, insisting that than should be used only as a conjunction. They therefore object to constructions in which rather than is followed by a gerund, as in Rather than buying a new car, I kept my old one. [Editor's note: these people are clearly insane. rather than + gerund is just fine, as is rather than + noun phrase.]

In some cases, however, rather than can only be followed by a gerund and not by a bare infinitive. If the main verb of the sentence has a form that does not allow parallel treatment of the verb following rather than, you cannot use a bare infinitive, and you must use a gerund. This is often the case when the main verb is in a past tense or has a participle. Thus, you must say The results of the study, rather than ending (not end or ended) the controversy, only added to it. If the main verb was in the present tense (add), you could use the bare infinitive end.

Curiously, when the rather than construction follows the main verb, it can use other verb forms besides the bare infinitive. Thus you can say The results of the study added to the controversy rather than ended it.

The overriding concern in all of this should be to avoid faulty parallels, as in sentences like Rather than buy a new car, I have kept my old one and Rather than take a cab, she is going on foot.

  • Your first paragraph seems to contradict your quotation: perhaps you could specify a bit in which circumstances the past tense is not grammatical. Cf. Curiously, when the "rather than" construction follows the main verb, it can use other verb forms besides the bare infinitive. Thus you can say The results of the study added to the controversy rather than ended it. My guess would be that it is possible as long as both verbs share all (most? some?) of their complements. Apr 25, 2011 at 13:00
  • @Cerberus The difference is that a subordinate clause exists in the example at the top marked ungrammatical, while the quoted text is puzzling over a sentence that contains no subordinate clause. "The results of the study added to the controversy rather than ended it" is a single clause, while *"He left rather than watched the movie" contains the subclause *"rather than watched the movie". It has to do with the verb phrase structures: v[added to the controversy rather than ended it] is a complete phrase, while in the ungrammatical case v[left] and v[watched the movie] are separate phrases. Apr 25, 2011 at 20:10
  • @Cerberus Verb tense is handled differently in subordinate clauses than main clauses, so the existence of a containing subordinate clause is the controlling factor in whether full tense expression is grammatical, or whether tense is constrained to the bare indefinite or gerund. Apr 25, 2011 at 20:16
  • @SevenSidedDie: Hmm I don't understand. Both sentences contain subordinate clauses, which are the than-clauses; in neither sentence is there another subordinate clause. Rather than ended it is as much a subordinate clause as is watched the movie. Apr 25, 2011 at 23:16
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    Is such a lengthy quoted excerpt in the Answer content truly necessary? @JSBngs own content is quite good, along with the three examples provided as support. May I suggest considering removal of some part of the extensive cited quotation that follows? Dec 15, 2011 at 19:32

This is a slithery beast indeed.

It seems that rather than has two usages:

The first is comparable to and not:

You should stay overnight rather than drive home in the rain.

The second is comparable to instead of, used to indicate a preference between two or more options:

I'd like chicken rather than fish.

I think I'll leave rather than enter the club.

He rejected rather than accepted the terms.

The example at hand, where a choice was made to not accept terms and therefore leave a club seems to be the first usage. You're not talking about a choice of options here, you're talking about what you did not do. What did you do? You left the club. What did you not do? You did not accept the terms.

He chose to leave the club and not accept the terms. He chose to leave the club rather than accept the terms.

Note the presence of the particle to seems to help here. I'm not convinced that 'He left the club rather than ...' is valid regardless of what follows. If this was a real-life problem at the very least I'd suggest taking out than and re-phrasing:

He did not accept the terms, but rather left the club.

  • I'm not convinced your and not and instead of meanings are really any different. Per my comment to JSBngs, "He leaves rather than watches the movie" and "He leaves rather than watch the movie" are very different meanings. In the first, the speaker is simply clarifying that one thing is happening, not another. In the second, we're being told about the choice someone makes, and the other option they've rejected. Dec 15, 2011 at 23:40
  • @FumbleFingers, I certainly don't claim to be authorative on this. I suppose by 'instead of' I am talking about a choice of options such as whether to eat fish or chicken. The question is what to eat. The options are related. With 'and not' it's a decision whether to eat chicken or go for a walk - it's not a question of what to eat but whether to eat. Fine point perhaps but I think there are two distinct usages for 'rather than'. Dec 16, 2011 at 0:30

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