This is a sentence from Colleen McCullough's novel The Thorn Birds:

Girls were no flaming use at all; they just ate a man out of house and home and when they were grown up they went and worked for someone else instead of stayed put like boys to help their old father in his last years.

From my research it seems that 'instead of' is always followed by a noun or a gerund. But is the above usage wrong? I just want to know if I can use the phrase like this in the future.

  • 1
    It’s dialectal and quite colloquial, but it does exist and is grammatical to some speakers. I agree with you, though: to me, a gerund is the only possibility. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 9 at 0:38

In almost every case I can think of, this analysis seems correct. It's also supported by the sources I've looked at.

For instance, the article "The Meaning of 'Instead of' and How to Use It," meant for native Spanish speakers:

Instead of is what we know as a prepositional phrase, in Spanish a frase preposicional. For this reason, after instead of there always needs to follow a noun or equivalent (gerund, noun phrase, pronoun, etc.). Therefore, after instead of you will never see a verb in the infinitive, with or without to.

The website speakspeak:

Don't forget that a verb coming directly after instead of of [sic] must be in the -ing form.

The article "How to use INSTEAD OF: Advanced English Vocabulary Lesson":

You have two choices when you make a sentence with this expression.

  1. You can use an -ING verb directly afterwards. (Technically, it’s a “gerund” which is a noun.)
  2. You can use a noun directly afterwards.

Having said that, I managed to come up with a sentence that actually sounds natural without using a gerund:

She decided to rent instead of own.

If I were editing this for formal usage, I might replace it with:

She decided to rent rather than own.

But the first version doesn't seem obviously wrong to me in the context of informal writing—and certainly not in the context of speech. In fact, in spoken form, pronunciation flows better with rent instead (t to i) than it does with rent rather (t to r), possibly making it preferable on that basis alone, everything else being equal.

Contrast this with instead of followed by the gerund form of own:

She decided to rent instead of owning.

To me, while this may be somewhat okay, it doesn't sound as good as either of the previous two versions—including instead of followed by the infinitive that would normally sound awful in other constructions.

I think this particular example may be an exception to the general use of instead of because of a combination of factors:

  • The first verb starts with a simple to-infinitive.
  • The second verb is one that is not frequently used in an -ing form in the first place. (Yes, we do talk about owning property, but it's not used as often.) Nor is it something that's observable, as opposed to most other verbs that describe visible actions.

Here is a similar sentence pair (this verb does describe an observable action):

He decided to run instead of jump.
He decided to run rather than jump.

As before, I find little objectionable about the first sentence.

However, if I compare the two instead of sentences next to each other, the new version does seems slightly (although still not obviously) awkward:

She decided to rent instead of own.
He decided to run instead of jump.

I'd be more inclined to replace the second sentence with its rather than version than I would the first.

After all of that, I'm not entirely sure what conclusion to draw. I think that in the majority of cases, you don't want to use a verb in the infinitive after instead of. However, in a few cases, it seems at least acceptable in verbal or informal written use. And, in the first example I came up with, it may even be preferable. (Although that could be a matter of opinion.)

This is a case where the so-called rule matches idiomatic use for the most part. But I don't know if I'd go so far as to insist on always applying it.

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