How to use Would rather in English
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Rather as a degree adverb
Rather is used to emphasize an adjective or adverb. Rather is often used to suggest an idea of something unexpected or surprising (it can be replaced by remarkably):
- It’s rather cold today.
- The film was rather good.
- Paul speaks Spanish rather well.
- My city is rather small in comparison with Paris.
⚠ Rather or quite ? Rather has a meaning similar to quite (or fairly), even if these two words have a rather positive meaning, while rather has a rather negative meaning.
- It’s quite warm today (positive sense)
- It’s rather warm today (negative sense)
Alternatives and preferences with Rather than
Rather than is used to give more importance to one thing when two alternatives or preferences are compared. It can be replaced by ‘instead of’.
- Let’s take the train rather than the bus.
- I would prefer to leave now rather than wait.
- He decided to write rather than telephone.
- It would be better to go in July rather than in August.
⚠ When the main clause has a verb in -ing, ‘rather than‘ can be followed by -ing:
- I prefer walking rather than driving.
- I would rather spend my time traveling than working.
Rather than is usually used when you want to compare two things. However, it can also be used at the beginning of a sentence. When we use rather than with a verb, we use the basic form or (less often) the -ing form of a verb:
- Rather than walking, he ran.
Rather than to pay… ❌
Wishes and preferences with Would rather
To talk about preferences or wishes, there is also the structure ‘would rather‘ (=’d rather) followed by the infinitive without to. It can be replaced by ‘prefer to‘:
- I’d rather go alone.
- I don’t want to go to the cinema. I’d rather stay here.
To say that a person would prefer another person to do something, ‘would rather‘ is usually followed by a tense in the past:
- I’d rather (that) you came another time.
To express regrets about something that has already happened, ‘would rather‘ is followed by the past perfect tense (it is similar to ‘wish‘):
- I’d rather you hadn’t done that.
Rather with adjective + noun
With a/an we generally use rather a/an + adjective + noun, but we can also use a rather + adjective + noun. With other determinants (some, those) we use determinant + rather + adjective + noun:
- We had to wait rather a long time. (= We had to wait a rather long time. – less common)
- He helped her out of rather an bad situation. (= He helped her out of a rather bad situation.)
- I had some rather good news today.
I had rather some good news today. ❌
Rather a + noun
Rather a followed by a name is used more in formal language than in informal language (especially written):
- It was rather a shock when I heard the news.
Rather a lot
We often use rather with a lot to refer to large quantities of something:
- This requires rather a lot of experience.
- There is rather a lot to do.
We also use rather a lot with a meaning of ‘often’:
- They went there rather a lot.
- This happens rather a lot.
Rather + verb
Rather is often used to highlight verbs such as enjoy, hate, hope, like, love:
- I was rather hoping you’d forgotten about that.
- I rather hate Indian food, actually.
Rather in short answers
Rather can be used to make a short answer:
- ‘Are you comfortable?’ ‘Yes, rather!’
Rather to make comparisons
We use rather with more or less + an adjective or adverb to make a comparison with something (especially in writing):
- I’m rather more concerned about the pollution.
- The country is rather less strong today than it was five years ago.
Rather with like is used to refer to similarities. Rather like then means ‘quite similar to’:
- They were small insects, rather like cockroaches.
- I felt rather like a student facing his professor.
We use or rather to correct what we have just said, or to clarify things:
- Her daughter is a doctor, or rather, a dentist.
- Paul picked us up in his car, or rather his dad’s car which he’d borrowed.
- He explained what this building is, or rather, what it was.
- He had to walk, or rather, run to the office.