1

Three times in the past week or so I came across somebody writing "sooner than later" when what they obviously meant was "sooner rather than later." The first time I saw it, I thought it was a typo. The second time was by the same writer, and I realized he was doing it deliberately. So I thought it was just a quirk of this cat; then I saw it again by someone else.

I'm not against change, but "sooner than later" doesn't even make sense. How did it become accepted practice to drop the "RATHER"?

8
  • 1
    When you're learning English, final ER's are a thing. When you're learning a phrase with three of them -soonER rathER than latER, stuff gets left out. and the middle ER, the non-parallel one, is the likeliest candidate for leaving out. Consider that sooner and later are both comparatives (and the comparative word than separates them), while the word rather means 'comparative'. The phrase shouts COMPARATIVE! That's overspecification, and people can spot it, and learn to live without it. – John Lawler Dec 23 '20 at 23:42
  • 2
    I think it would be helpful if you provided the full sentences or contexts in which this phrase occurs. There is a phrase 'sooner OR later', which means 'eventually'. I could imagine someone using the phrase you mention because they want something done not 'sooner or later', but 'sooner THAN later'. That would be quite an effective way of making a point. But I do not know the context. – Tuffy Dec 23 '20 at 23:58
  • 2
    I’ve never heard anyone speak or write this. I agree with @Tuffy - context would be helpful here. – FeliniusRex Dec 24 '20 at 3:15
  • 2
    I can vouch, from anecdotal experience, that using "sooner than later" in contexts where I would expect "sooner rather than later" has recently become common in my work correspondence (tech, Pacific Northwest, USA). OP's not imagining it. On the other hand, from 7 years ago: english.stackexchange.com/questions/118298/… – A_S00 Dec 24 '20 at 7:26
  • 1
    @A_S00 Perhaps we should describe it as a 'transitional' usage: not yet 'established' but not in error. "sooner than", in that context looks grammatically sound. 'It don't want your response later; I want it sooner than later'. Beyond that you could, if you wanted to, account for it as ellipse (dropping the word 'rather'); but that is more a question of the psychology of the user than one of strict grammar. – Tuffy Dec 24 '20 at 9:53