People are selfish rather than selfless.


People are selfish rather than 'being' selfless.

How can I make this sentence right? It seems to be human nature to prefer easy jobs to difficult ones, which is probably why a lot of people are selfish rather than selfless. Or should I say "rather than being selfless"?

  • 1
    It's pretty redundant either way; being selfish implies not being selfless. Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 22:48
  • @ostrichofevil can you explain in details please?
    – CatfishFTW
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 22:49
  • 1
    Selfish and selfless are antonyms (opposites). When you say that someone is selfish, you are saying that they are not selfless, and vice versa. If you add either "rather than selfish" or "rather than being selfish," you're conveying no new meaning in your sentence; you're simply repeating yourself. I would recommend that you leave out the "rather" clause altogether. Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 22:53
  • 3
    To offer a different opinion, though, sometimes writers employ parallelism for emphasis. If you opt include the second part, though, keep it short and leave out the "being".
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 0:21
  • 1
    What @J.R.♦ said. Note that it's normal to "delete" repeated elements, so People are being selfish rather than being selfless naturally reduces to People are being selfish rather than selfless, but if you don't start with the continuous form, it's stylistically appalling to introduce it in just the second "paralleled" element. But it is essentially a matter of style, not grammar. Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


There are two questions here. The first is whether your example sentences are grammatical, and the answer is that they are.

The second question is whether your sentences are good English style. Good style means your sentences say what you want them to say, and that they say it in a way that is clear and concise. As ostrichofevil points out, your sentence is redundant because the words "selfish" and "selfless" are opposites. It's like saying the tea is hot, not cold. We already know it's not cold because you said it was hot.

So while the sentence is grammatical, it doesn't say anything interesting, at least not as written. You could instead elaborate on what, specifically, makes you think people are "selfish":

People are selfish; they prefer to spend money on frivolities rather than give it to those who would spend it on necessities.

This says the same thing as "not selfless", but with more focus on a specific selfish behavior. The other element of good English style is parallelism. When comparing two things, it is recommended to use the same structure and form for both:

People are selfish, not generous.

People would rather be selfish than be generous.

All too often, people are being selfish, and not being generous.

The third sentence I include as an example of parallelism, but notice that it is wordy, and less clear than the first sentence.

  • Although you might say it's redundant, I do like, "People are selfish, not selfless" for its use of "self-" "self-". Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 8:50

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