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Can You Start a Sentence With “Rather”?

You are working on a writing assignment, and you get to a sentence where you feel the word “rather” would work nicely at the start. You hesitate, trying to recall your past lessons about “rather” in English class, but you can’t remember. Can you start a sentence with “rather”?

A sentence can be started with “rather” by inserting a comma after the word if you are contrasting the sentence before it. You can also begin a sentence with “rather” by using the phrase “rather than” when contrasting two different clauses. You can also use “rather” to introduce two clauses at once.

In American English, you rarely hear someone start a sentence with “rather,” but it does happen. Keep reading to find out the different ways you can begin a sentence with “rather.”

Can You Use “Rather” at the Beginning of a Sentence?

Again, no rule says you cannot start a sentence with “rather.” Using “rather” at the beginning of a sentence is not very common, but you can do it (source).

Examples:

Rather a disappointing experience to have worked so hard only to lose.

Rather to live free to make your own choices than to die in chains.

Rather than sit quietly to await her turn, the woman protested the long wait times by demanding to speak with a manager.

In British English, they use the one-word sentence “Rather!” to agree with something that someone else has said. This use of the word is a little outdated in today’s society, but here are a few examples of how you could use “rather” as a one-word sentence.

Example 1: 

  • Person 1: It is a wonderful day today!
  • Person 2: Rather!

Example 2: 

  • Person 1: That professor’s class is extremely difficult to pass.
  • Person 2: Rather.

“Rather,” in this context, is always a reply to a statement from someone else that you agree with. You also think that it is a wonderful day today. You agree that the professor’s class is extremely difficult to pass. 

In such cases, it is grammatically correct to use “rather” as a one-word sentence (source). 

Can You Start a Sentence with “Rather” and a Comma?

If you are going to start a sentence with “rather,” it is common to use a comma after it. Using “rather” in this way transforms the word to its conjunctive adverb form, where you can use it to suggest the opposite idea of the sentence before it. 

Examples: 

Tommy had no interest in becoming a professional basketball player. Rather, his love for food drove him to become a professional chef.

Katherin’s puppy hated going for walks on rainy days. Rather, it preferred a long walk when it was sunny outside.

The sky wasn’t blue that day. Rather, it was dark grey with thick clouds that foretold the coming of a thunderstorm.

In these examples, “rather” functions to coordinate the explanation of what is regarding the subject in the sentence, while the sentence before establishes what is not regarding that same subject.

If you would like to read more information on using a comma with “rather,” check out the article “Can You Use Rather After a Comma?

Can We Start a Sentence With “Rather Than”?

“Rather than” is one of the very few ways you can start a stand-alone sentence with “rather.” Serving in a coordinating conjunction-type role in a sentence or as a prepositional phrase, “Rather than” coordinates contrasting or comparative verbs (source). 

As a coordinating conjunction, “rather than” serves its purpose in the middle of the sentence, bringing the independent clause together with the dependent one. 

Examples:

Against his parents’ wishes, Damon wanted to become a musician rather than a teacher.

The woman gave birth to a girl rather than the boy she had expected.

The cat jumped out the window and landed on its back rather than its feet. 

In all of these examples, “rather than” is the glue that brings contrasting, subordinate sentences together into one cohesive thought.

Understanding “Rather Than” and How to Use It to Start a Sentence 

When you start a sentence with “rather than,” you suggest that one verb in the sentence is replacing another. Using “rather than” as a prepositional phrase in this way helps to bring together two contrasting dependent or subordinate sentences, clauses, or words (source).

Examples:

Rather than swimming to the other side of the lake, Judy decided to take the rowboat.

Rather than going to the movies with his friends, Micheal stayed home and finished his research paper for history class.

Rather than going over to his mother’s house for a visit, James picked up the phone and called her instead.

Notice that when you use “rather than” as a prepositional phrase, the verb that follows “rather than” is almost always in -ing form (when it doesn’t take the plain form), whereas the verb that contrasts in the latter part of the sentence is usually in the past tense. 

-ing form: Rather than dancing with her friends on the dance floor, Rebecca stood near the wall with a drink in her hand.

Plain form: Rather than dance with her friends on the dance floor, Rebecca stood near the wall with a drink in her hand.

Also, like using the preposition “instead of,” when starting a sentence with the prepositional version of “rather than,” the verbs in the dependent sentences — dependent meaning unable to stand alone — are not comparable.

Using “Instead Of”

If we replace “rather than” in the above example sentences with “instead of,” the meaning of the sentence changes very little, but the tone may become brasher (source). 

Examples:

Instead of swimming to the other side of the lake, Judy decided to take the rowboat. 

Instead of going to the movies with his friends, Micheal stayed home and finished his research paper for History class.

Instead of going over to his mother’s house for a visit, James picked up the phone and called her instead.

Instead of dancing with her friends on the dance floor, Rebecca stood near the wall with a drink in her hand.

Can You Start a Question With “Rather”?

Although you would not do this regularly in American English, you can use “rather than” in a prepositional sentence structure to form a compound question with “rather” at the start of the sentence.

Examples:

  • Rather than going to a movie, do you want to get tickets for the baseball game?
  • Rather than eating tacos tonight, what do you think about going out for sushi?
  • Rather than just sitting there watching me clean the house, do you mind helping me?

In these examples, notice that the speaker, or question asker, is stating what is or would be and giving the listener another alternative in the form of a question. 

Also, notice that the verb in the latter part of the sentence is now in the present tense, plain form, while the verb after “rather than” in the first part of the sentence remains in -ing form.

Example: 

Rather than getting some donuts for dessert, do you want to get some frozen yogurt from the new shop that just opened?

What Are the Different Ways You Can Use “Rather” in a Sentence? 

“Rather” is a chameleon of a word that can take many forms in a sentence depending on how you use it. 

Example 1: I feel rather bad about how our friendship ended.

Example 2: I would rather go sit down in a nice restaurant than go to the gaming center. 

Example 3: He was angry or rather disappointed at the way the drama series ended.

In each case, “rather” changes its form to fit the needs of the sentence. It can determine degree, preference, or convey contradiction within the same sentence.

You Can Use “Rather” to Determine the Degree of Something

You can use “rather” as an adverb to determine the degree of a word. You can do this by placing “rather” just before an adjective or another adverb to convey how much — usually a soft indication of something being too much — something is. 

Examples:

  • It is rather cold outside today. You may want to put on your jacket if you are going out.
  • It was rather nice to visit with my old high school friends today.
  • This kitchen is rather dark, don’t you think? There are no windows to let in the sunlight.

“Rather” can determine the degree of an adverb when you will place it directly in front of the adverb and add a “ly” onto the word. 

Examples:

I feel rather badly about not bringing a gift to my friend’s birthday party. Perhaps, I will order something online and have it sent to her house.

Note: This sentence is grammatically correct in British English, whereas American English uses the plain form “bad” instead.

We had to walk rather slowly for the baby to keep up. He has only been walking for about a week.

Our school’s basketball team won the tournament rather easily last weekend. The students have been working really hard all season.

You Can Use “Rather” as a Predeterminer to Determine the Degree

If you place “rather” in front of a plain form adverb and put an “a” between them, you can use “rather” as a predeterminer to convey the degree of the description you are writing.

Examples:

That was rather a good book I read over the holiday. It was a murder mystery with a surprising end.

There was rather a sad song on the radio this morning while driving into work. I admit I shed a tear or two.

It was rather a busy day in the office today. We have a major deadline tomorrow morning.

In these examples, notice that the degree is higher than normal. You can say you read a good book, but saying you read “rather a good” book indicates that this book was, to a degree, better than most of the other books you usually read. 

You Can Use “Rather” to Bring Two Contrasting Ideas Together?

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You can make a self-correction by using the phrase “or rather” after a comma or in its own separate sentence (source).

Examples:

 Adam was embarrassed or rather shy about his singing voice, so he had terrible stage fright.

The thief admitted to stealing the car. Or rather, he admitted to borrowing the car but refuses to say if he was going to return it.

Taunya took a shortcut down a small street, or rather an alleyway, to get to her home.

Notice that the latter part of the sentence corrects the former portion, which generally has stronger or broader wording than the correcting phrase. 

Example: 

Tyson wanted to be a Doctor when he grew up. Or rather, he wanted to be a Pediatrician because he loved children.

You can use “rather” to provide contrast from the first part of the sentence to the second, much like the use of the word “instead.” Only when you use “rather,” it softens the contrast between the two thoughts and lightens the tone, if only a little.

Examples: 

Tim didn’t like to get beef from the big-name grocery store down the street; rather, he preferred to go to his local butcher shop.

Jessie never liked driving just two miles to work; rather, she enjoyed riding her bike and watching the sunrise.

My grandmother would never text me to ask a simple question; rather, she would call me and have a long conversation.

This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

In these examples, you use “rather” to indicate the preference of the subject. For example, Jessie prefers biking to work, while Tim prefers to get his beef from the local butcher shop. Finally, grandma prefers to call.

Final Thoughts 

“Rather” is a word with many identities depending on how you use it in a sentence. 

There is no rule against starting a sentence with “rather.” In fact, “rather” is its own grammatically correct sentence in old-fashioned British English. 

If you want to use “rather” to start a sentence, transforming it to its prepositional or conjunction form is the way to go.