When the noun is preceded by an adjective both rather a (more typical of British English) and a rather are found.

When a rather is used, rather qualifies only the adjective, whereas with rather a it qualifies either the adjective or the entire noun phrase. Thus a rather long ordeal can mean only "an ordeal that is rather long," whereas rather a long ordeal can also mean roughly "a long process that is something of an ordeal."


What is in effect the difference with "a long process that is something of an ordeal" ? Maybe a different example would help here.

  • The author regards rather a long ordeal as implying rather an ordeal that was also long - that is, it wasn't definitely an ordeal but only somewhat unpleasant. Aug 1, 2021 at 7:58

1 Answer 1


I simply disagree with your source.

What it is saying is that

rather a long ordeal

may mean that it definitely was long but was perhaps not an ordeal or that it definitely was an ordeal but was perhaps not long. I do not subscribe to that. I think that what is being qualified is the whole phrase, and that the construction is like "quite a" and "almost a" and "virtually a." That is "rather a long ordeal" indicates that the statement is a bit hyperbolic and not to be taken literally.

I do agree that

a rather long ordeal

is primarily qualifying the adjective.

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