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Subject: rather than
Question: Hello. I'm an English teacher in Iran.

I found the following sentence in the novel ''Madame Bovary.''

''In the market-place she met Lestiboudois on his way back. Rather than cut his day short, he chose to break off from his work and resume afterwards, thus ringing the Angelus to suit his own convenience.”

Here is the question: In the sentence above, ''rather than'' means ''instead of'' , right? But, why the verb '' cut'' does not have '' ing'' ? I think the sentence should be ''''In the market-place she met Lestiboudois on his way back. Rather than CUTTING his day short, he chose to break off from his work and resume afterwards, thus ringing the Angelus to suit his own convenience.”

What do you think? Do you agree with me?

Please explain your reasons. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

Reply: I don't agree, I'm afraid. What you wrote would be good English but it would mean something different. In the Flaubert translation you quote, the alternatives are "he chose to break off from his work ..." and "he chose not to cut his day short". With your rewording, the alternatives would be "he chose to break off ..." and "he did not cut his day short". In other words, Flaubert has the man choosing between two alternatives. Your wording would have him acting on one of two possibilities, the one that involves choosing; if instead he had cut his day short that might not have been as a result of a conscious choice.

In practice, of course, in the context this is a distinction that makes very little difference. But the same grammar with different vocabulary might yield an important difference. Off the cuff I can only think of a weak example, but consider a situation where a girl has little sense of what clothes are suitable in different social circumstances. Then there might be a large difference between:

(a) Rather than looking a fool, she chose to wear a skirt.
(b) Rather than look a fool, she chose to wear a skirt.

With (a), she happened to decide to wear a skirt (rather than trousers, say), and the result was that she didn't look a fool (but perhaps she had no idea that wearing trousers would have made her look foolish). With (b), she made a choice to wear a skirt rather than to look a fool, that is, she knew that wearing trousers would make her look silly and she chose to avoid that.

Hope this helps,

Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
 
Date: 15-Jul-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: rather than    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (15-Jul-2013)
  2. Re: rather than    James L Fidelholtz     (15-Jul-2013)
  3. Re: rather than    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (15-Jul-2013)

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