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I know "than" can be both preposition and conjunction and in this case it seems to serve as a conjunction.

But the sentence doesn't look right and I think the right sentence would be,

I would rather eat it than looking at it.

What are the grammatical rules behind this usage?

  • If you used a gerund for one, you'd need to use a gerund for the other, so "I would rather be eating it than looking at it." would be fine, as would "I would rather eat it than look at it." but your stated sentence would be incorrect. – John Clifford Feb 7 '16 at 13:54
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The grammatical principle here is called parallelism (balance within one or more sentences of similar phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure). Thus...

I would rather eat it than [I would] look at it

...where the contrast is between two actions represented by infinitive verb forms (eat, look at) either side of than (being half of the correlative conjunction rather ... than).

As @John Clifford comments, if you change one half, you have to change the other to suit: I would rather be eating it than [be] looking at it.

  • Thanks for the recognition, have another meaningless internet point! – John Clifford Feb 7 '16 at 14:05
  • @John Clifford: Apparently not totally meaningless. For a few weeks recently I kept posting bounties to avoid going reaching 100K rep (I just thought it might look a bit intimidating for some other users! :) But then this answer suddenly got massive upvotes while I was AFK, so I stopped bothering. The next day I got an email from SO asking for my address so they can send me a "goodie bag" in recognition of my dedication to the site. (I'm not expecting a cheque though! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '16 at 14:12
  • Nice! Congrats on your milestone. I was pretty stoked yesterday when I hit 1k. – John Clifford Feb 7 '16 at 14:15
  • @Fogwright: The actual question as posed here (What are the grammatical rules behind this usage?) seems perfectly On Topic for ELU. But noting that from your perspective, rather eat it than looking at it somehow seems more "correct, logical", I think you personally would have done better to ask on English Language Learners. It's often helpful if people state their native language in ELL/ELU profiles, since it may be someone else can explain why your language leads you to make that false assumption (that might really help you elsewhere). – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '16 at 14:34
  • If we consider than as a (subordinating) conjunction, I think omitting I would after than in the sentence is closer to coordination than parallelism. If you contrast the sentence with "I like dogs more than (I like) cats, it is closer to coordination. – user140086 Feb 7 '16 at 15:01

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