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Now I know the phrase 'sooner rather than later' has already been explored here

But I would like this to be seen as a follow up question that further examines the phrase. After doing some research, I learned that even though 'sooner than later' has become fairly common, the idiomatic way of expressing the idea is to use 'sooner RATHER than later' as one can do it sooner(A) or one can do it later(B) (two choices). I also remember across an article saying how 'sooner than later' is just a mutated version of 'sooner or later', but the article didn't provide many examples I can refer to.

Here is the real question though, what if we add 'better' (comparative) to the structure. Does 'sooner rather than later' still make logical sense?

For example:

  • I told him that it's better to do it sooner than later.

Or

  • I told him it's better to do it sooner rather than later.

Here, I can rewrite the first sentence as 'I told him it's better to do it sooner than IT IS TO DO IT LATER' or even 'Doing it sooner is BETTER THAN LATER I told him.' On the other hand, the second sentence doesn't seem to be correct as 'rather than' doesn't function in the same way in terms of joining the two parts for comparison.

So what do you think about this situation? If 'better than later' still the wrong phrase to use regardless? Or is this a case of grammar rules not following real world logic?

Many thanks in advance.

  • I would still use the second one. – Teacher KSHuang Feb 6 '17 at 12:13
  • I would definitely use the second version if the sentence goes like 'I should do it sooner RATHER THAN later.' But in this case the comparative form of good is used. So is it really okay for it not to follow the construction- 'comparative adjective + than + noun (object)'? – JUNCINATOR Feb 8 '17 at 13:53
  • If this were a piece of my student's writing, I would change it. Then, verbally, I would tell them, it's not wrong, but it's more natural to have the rather, similar to Andrew's answer below. – Teacher KSHuang Feb 9 '17 at 9:00
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"Better sooner than later" is already an abbreviation of the full phrase, so it's more common to use it in an abbreviated sentence where the context is already known:

I told him better sooner than later.

Otherwise if you have to explain the context, it's more natural to include more detail:

I told him, if you're going to send that letter, then sooner is better than later.

If you're going to send that letter, better send it sooner rather than later.

There are many variations of this phrase, and I wouldn't consider this a formal rule. It's fine either way.

  • Thanks for the answer, but is it really okay to use BETTER with RATHER THAN instead of THAN. Would it still be comparative? – JUNCINATOR Feb 8 '17 at 13:48
  • @JUNCINATOR there are many ways to phrase this, I just wanted to give you an example that a native English speaker might say, that also fits your question. – Andrew Feb 8 '17 at 17:12

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