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Someone said "what would you rather her do?". It didn't sound correct to me. So, I said it's "what would you rather she does?". Someone else said it isn't correct either and said it's "what would you rather have her do?". This sounded better to me, but I want to know if I was wrong.

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8 Answers 8

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It is difficult for one who is not a trained linguistics/grammar expert to sort this one out. However my native ear tells me that all of the following are idiomatic, and in daily use in GB.

What would you rather she do. (Some might argue that does could be substituted here, but I certainly prefer do)

What would you rather her do.

What would you rather have her do.

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  • I'm fine with all three verb forms in What would you rather she do / does / did? in the cited context, but I can't go along with your second example above (though the final one is fine with have). Aug 15, 2022 at 16:03
  • If you find #2 "okay", how do you react to Where would you rather him go? and What would you rather me say? Your "her" version puts me in mind of Somerset dialect. But I can't get my head round those "him" and "me" alternatives at all, even though syntactically they seem to be doing the same thing. Aug 15, 2022 at 17:20
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    @FumbleFingers Is it not simply elision? The "have" is still there, in all cases, but just not spoken. However I do rather agree with you that the shorter versions come across as a bit downmarket. My own original dialect was Norfolk which - as a county both linguistically and culturally of the south - has more in common with Somerset than it does with neighbouring Lincolnshire, which is linguistically northern. So perhaps my affinity for #2 is down to something I heard with a pitchfork in my hand.
    – WS2
    Aug 15, 2022 at 20:03
  • I guess it's up to you how you "internally rationalise" the syntax of #2. Obviously it's somehow "acceptable" to you, or you wouldn't have written it. If you put it down to elision, doesn't that suggest you should also be familiar with a kind of slurred "intermediate" version between #2 and #3 (What would you rather've her do?) In my experience, elided words like that usually had and often retain a half-hearted attempt to semi-articulate the "missing" element. But personally I find that particular 've almost impossible to generate - it certainly doesn't sound / feel natural to me! Aug 16, 2022 at 3:03
  • ...anyway, I'm terrifically glad to see that you find #2 acceptable. I'm not consciously aware that I've ever heard it myself - but sometimes I'm quite capable of simply not noticing some usage that doesn't make sense to me (unless and until I've heard it so often it's impossible to ignore! :) So I might have just dismissed that first sentence in OP's text as a meaningless example of "Funny things non-native speakers say". Whereas in fact it's obviously an "authentic" (albeit imho "exotic") form lurking among the natives! Aug 16, 2022 at 3:18
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Here are two (of many more) ways to express the sentiment:

  1. What would you rather have her do?

and

  1. What would you rather she did?
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  • What is your answer to the Q., which was "Is 'what would you rather she does?' grammatically correct?"?
    – TrevorD
    Feb 28, 2019 at 15:17
  • The answer is no. I thought that was pretty obvious, but now I realize I was wrong.
    – Ricky
    Feb 28, 2019 at 15:22
  • I actually thought your answer was 'Yes', and that you were suggesting two further options.
    – TrevorD
    Feb 28, 2019 at 15:26
  • @TrevorD: I'm terribly sorry. I wasn't clear enough.
    – Ricky
    Mar 1, 2019 at 2:47
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Yes, rather her do is grammatical.

Compare rather me do.

A pronoun in the objective case is licensed by the verb rather.

This is also valid:

What would you rather she say?

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  • 1
    Rather is not a verb, but an adverb. “What would you rather her do” is completely ungrammatical to me, and I wouldn’t actually have thought it was grammatical anywhere, but the quotes you link to make a strong case that this isn’t so. I suppose it’s a case of would licensing an infinitival phrase complement with an overt subject for some, but not for others. Feb 25, 2019 at 17:35
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    @Janus Bahs Jacquet: IMO rather has been reanalyzed as a verb in such constructions. Compare: google.com/…
    – TimR
    Feb 25, 2019 at 17:41
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    I'm saying that for some contemporary speakers rather is much like would have there. "What would you have me do?" can be paraphrased as "What do you want me to do then?" Use of the objective pronouns with rather is quite common in AmE.
    – TimR
    Feb 25, 2019 at 18:29
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: TRomano is correct that at least some speakers have reanalyzed "rather" as a verb. See the quote in my answer here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/688/… Forms with verbal suffixes like "would have rathered" are attested.
    – herisson
    Feb 25, 2019 at 18:48
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    ' “What would you rather her do” is completely ungrammatical to me, '. Not for me! Regardless, the idiom would rather itself licences its own complements which can not only be subjunctive (as is possible but less likely in UK and probable in US), but also tensed clauses and even NPs, which would be impossible if these were complements of the modal auxiliary would. For example, I'm sure you find the following ok: I would rather she left or I would rather you than me, for example. Aug 15, 2022 at 16:00
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Turning to old reliable Will Shakespeare (in As You Like It)

   ...Truly, I would 
The gods had made thee poetical.

The verb in this problem is "would". "Rather" is simply an adverb, with no particular consequence.

An Elizabethan-ish dialogue:

I would she had done something else.
What would you she had done?
But soft! She is still doing that terrible thing.  
What would you she were doing?
Ah, she has stopped and asks now for guidance.
What would you she do?

Put in "rather," well, as you like it.

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    I'd rather she had done something else is past tense.
    – Lambie
    Feb 25, 2019 at 19:45
  • @Lambie The doing is in the past; the "would-ing" is in the present. I was just trying to show the verb choice for "to do" in relation to when the offending behavior occurs.
    – remarkl
    Feb 25, 2019 at 20:26
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    It does not correspond to the question as asked.
    – Lambie
    Feb 25, 2019 at 22:59
  • Let's let Jackson decide if it helps.
    – remarkl
    Feb 25, 2019 at 23:08
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I agree with Ricky that what would you rather have her do? and what would you rather she did? are the only correct options with the construction "would rather".

Here's why: Because there are two constructions with "would rather".


1st construction: Pronoun + would rather + bare infinitive

So following that construction, the sentence "what would you rather have her do?" is 100% correct. Rearrange it as so:

"You would rather have her do what?"--> pronoun (you) + would rather + bare infinitive (have)


2nd construction: Pronoun 1 + would rather + pronoun 2 + past simple

Following the second construction, the sentence "what would you rather she did?" is also 100% correct. Rearrange it as so:

"You would rather she did what?"--> pronoun 1 (you) + would rather + pronoun 2 (she) + past simple (did)


Here is a website that explains well: https://www.gymglish.com/en/gymglish/english-grammar/would-rather

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  • The second version is technically an irrealis use as in I’d rather she were here, but you can't see that in the morphology of any verb except be. It's a vestige of the old past subjunctive.
    – tchrist
    Aug 15, 2022 at 14:11
  • Yes, I wrote "past simple" since the conjugation of the past subjunctive is basically the one of the past simple except that "was" becomes "were". British English also tends to use "was" instead of "were" for the construction "would rather + pronoun", here is an example from the Cambridge dictionary "would you rather I wasn’t honest with you?" while Americans tend to use "were" for this particular construction as well as others. Aug 15, 2022 at 15:22
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The "I'd rather" shows that the speaker was talking about a (preferred) hypothetical situation. An irrealis form of the verb is therefore required. Two possibilities.

If the speaker wanted to ask about a preference for her future action, then it's "What would you rather she do?", just as the person had said, as reported in the OP.

If they wanted to ask about a preference for her past action, then it's "What would you rather she had done?".

"... she does?" (as suggested by the OP) and "... she did?" are incorrect. They are ordinary present and past tense forms, respectively, not irrealis forms.

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Examples of subject + would rather

  • I'd rather he leave now. Or: I'd rather he left now.
  • I'd rather he do the work now. Or: I'd rather he did the work now.
  • What would you rather she do? Or: What would you rather she did?

  • I'd rather he left now. [also]

  • I'd rather he did the work now. [also]
  • What would you rather she did? [also]

she does and her do don't work here.

The third-person singular s or es morpheme is not used after "would rather": subject ][I,we, etc.] would rather.

The choices are present simple without the third person singular morphemes (s or es) or simple past.

Real World Examples:

Arsenal can’t win for losing 20 What would you rather they do: something or nothing?What would you rather they do?

"Seriously - read what you typed. By far the biggest element of fuel is tax. The government should reduce the tax. And pay for what how???? Sadly the only means of raising revenue is.... tax. What would you rather they do? Shut your local hospital to pay for your drive down the motorway? Jeez."

what would you rather they do?

"The public has indicated that they would rather he do this than increase taxes." would rather he do

Followed by simple past:

But Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn told ITV News that he would "have a discussion" with Rosena Allin-Khan, who is a shadow minister, about her appearance at the rally: "She's entitled to her point of view. I would rather she and every other Labour MP spent today and tomorrow and Tuesday concentrating solely on making sure we defeat this deal."

would rather plus simple past

Firstly, according to 3,000 voters asked by the website Politico, 47 per cent of voters want Theresa May to compromise and reach a deal with the European Union, compared to 35 per cent who would rather she walked away without one. Indeed, 53 per cent of voters to 47 would rather we stayed in the European Union than exited with no deal in place. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/theresa-may-conservatives-brexit-no-deal-politics-westminster-leadership-a8618456.html

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  • -s is the third person singular morpheme, not plural. Mar 28, 2019 at 8:07
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Yep, I dyslexiaed myself. I have fixed it.
    – Lambie
    Mar 28, 2019 at 13:17
  • I searched Google Books for the sequence what would you rather he, and got back 6 pages of results. Just looking at the first page, I see contextually relevant examples of "Past" Tense (believed), true Subjunctive (do), and "Present" Tense (does). Disregarding misplaced pedantry, I'd say they're all fine. Aug 15, 2022 at 16:14
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    As you presumably know, I have little time for grammarians' notions of "non-standard". I'm firmly in the "descriptive linguistics" camp, so it's quite enough for me to find examples of all three usages on the first page of my Google Books search. Partly the result of studying English as used over many centuries to degree level, and having lived through many decades of "usage shifts over time" myself, I take all notions of "correctness" with a large pinch of salt. Correct according to who? When? Aug 15, 2022 at 17:05
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    No it isn't. Read the question again. Both the title and the bulk of the question text concern the do / does choice, not she / her. But as I commented to @WS2, I don't like her at all. It sounds very "dialectal" to me. Aug 15, 2022 at 17:13
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This is called causative.

The subject of the action/sentence is you, who is the cause of an action of a second person. Even though it might seem that the verb is an action that she will do, this is not the case. The action is done by you. The action is to make her do or have her do. In your case, it has been shortened to her do. This is the verb that you do.

I am not sure if the omission of the verb make or have is considered undesirable. It is definitely used as you wrote it.

It is very common to express causative value using make/have + noun + bare infinitive. The bare infinitive is the action that noun will do. In your case the do is the bare infinitive.

But since the sentence is really expressing an action of its subject you, it would be the verb make/have the one that carries the declination by person. For example:

She makes her do.

Because some are confused about it. - There are many ways in which a sentence can have causative value. Your example is but one of them. Causative value can be constructed also using have + noun + past participle as in

She had him killed.

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  • good ... add a dictionary or similar citation.
    – lbf
    Feb 25, 2019 at 15:24
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    This seems more like a subjunctive situation. I'd rewrite the OP's question as: "What would you rather she do?"
    – user888379
    Feb 25, 2019 at 15:50
  • @user888379 Causative and subjunctive are not exclusive categories. The former is valency, while the latter is mood. What you wrote is still causative. Moreover, mood doesn't explain why do remains as infinitive. The fact that causative is constructed as [make/have] + noun + bare infinitive verb does tell what is the construction being used. His sentence is correct. Changing it would avoid even more answering his question.
    – user337754
    Feb 25, 2019 at 16:18
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    I would rather she do/did/does is not causative. It doesn't mean I would rather make her do ... Feb 25, 2019 at 16:31
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    I would rather the sun was shining does not mean I would rather make the sun shine. Feb 25, 2019 at 16:34

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