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I am doing some researches to understand clearly the usage of rather than. However I found myself even more confused by some peripheral stuff.

In this post (Past tense and "rather than"), the American Heritage dictionary was being quoted to illustrate the proper usage of rather than. It is stated that, in some cases, rather than can only be followed by a gerund. It gave as an example this sentence:

"The result of the study, rather than ending the controversy, only added to it".

It states that if end or ended had been used, the sentence would be wrong because "...the main verb has a form which would not allow parallel treatment of the verb following rather than."

I am confused by this statement. Could someone explain to me, what does "the main verb has a form which would not allow parallel treatment" in this context mean?

By the way, I am still very confused about the usage of rather than, can anyone point me to a comprehensive source so that I could really grasp the idea?

  • possible duplicate of [clause in simple tense], rather than [verb in -ing form] {see esp Neil Coffey's answer} – Edwin Ashworth Apr 11 '15 at 20:01
  • I have also read the post you cited here. However, I cannot derive satisfactory answer from Neil's answer, especially in relation to the particular statement that I am concerned about. Or did I overlook something? (see Marius Hancu's comment below. It partly demonstrates my confusion) – Alan Apr 11 '15 at 20:10
  • "The result of the study actually added to rather than ended the controversy." is the only acceptable choice out of end / to end / ending / ended with this word ordering, in my opinion. "The result of the study, rather than ending the controversy, only added to it." is again, I'd say, the only choice. BUT "The result of the study added to the controversy rather than ending/ended it." both sound acceptable. // The AHD needs to explain itself better. But a research paper would probably be required to better explain these idiosyncratic constructions. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 11 '15 at 21:06
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I cannot explain it in grammatical terms but perhaps I can state it in logical terms. The "main verb" in this case is "added". It's past tense because the result of the study did in fact add to the controversy. Therefore the "parallel treatment" for the hypothetical is not possible because the hypothetical did not occur and cannot be expressed in the past tense. The gerund "ending" allows for the hypothetical.

  • How about using the bare infinitive: "The result of the study, rather than end the controversy, only added to it." Can you explain why this wouldn't be correct? Thanks. – Marius Hancu Apr 11 '15 at 19:56
  • @Marius I think it's back to Neil Coffey's 'there's a strong affinity for the -ing form after rather than' [paraphrasing]. Not that this explains why, of course. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 11 '15 at 20:54
  • I want to say that a "rather than" formulation where one side of the comparison has occurred and the other side is a hypothetical calls for the accusative rather than a functional verb on the hypothetical side. – Theresa Gray Apr 11 '15 at 22:11
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    @Marius: if you used the bare infinitive in the OP's sentence, it would not be a past tense. That is, you would say "The result of the study, rather than end the controversy, will only add to it", for a future event; and "The result of the study, rather than ending the controversy, only added to it", for a past event. – Peter Shor Apr 12 '15 at 1:14
  • @Peter Shor: It is known that the infinitive and the ing-forms/participle/gerund are all non-finite forms. Such forms do not express a time by themselves. Their meaning is set according to the context. How could then end change the time expressed by the subordinate? That time is dictated by the finite verb in the main, the indicative added. – Marius Hancu Apr 12 '15 at 2:53
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This is what is mentioned in this famous grammar, which in turns quotes a great novelist:

... we have come to feel that the simple infinitive is to be used with rather ...:

'Rather than disturb him she went for a light-box and his cigar-case to his bedroom' (Thackeray, Pendennis, I, Ch. XVIII)

George Curme, A Grammar of the English Language, Vol II, Syntax, 49 4 E, p. 480

which represents another clear example of using rather than with the bare infinitive in a context in which the main sentence uses a simple past verb.

May I suggest that those interested should read these threads elsewhere, which make reference to the recommendations of Quirk, Swan, Leech and Svartvik, and Collins Cobuild Dictionary on the matter of "rather than":

"rather than" and "instead of"

Subjunctive?

In particular, in these sources there seems to be much less strictness related to the use of the bare infinitive with the "rather than" construct than what I've seen in the references in the OP here.

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