rather than is used as either an adverb or a conjunction, but rather than bear in the passage confuses me. If it is used as a conjunction, its form should be rather than bears(parallel structure), but why did the author use an infinitive?

In history, some bosses were vilified as the architects of much evil of their time, and truly they were. But such bosses never operate alone; no large-scale evil can be perpetrated in a society by one man without evil being in the minds of so many of its people. The many must have come to accept the evil acts as pardonable, as they had become necessary in their conscience. Yes, such bosses might be working with a minority, but when a minority lords it over the majority, then the minority is the effective majority. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A man is not worth living who is not ready to die for what he believes in.” Thus, whatever happens is consciously or unconsciously accepted by the society that lives with it rather than bear the consequences of confronting it. Therefore, a person of any character can be the boss as long as the collective feelings of his society deem it fit.

The Laws of the Bosses:: The Roadmap to the Realm of Power

2 Answers 2


Merriam-Webster rather than

conjunction 1 —used with the infinitive form of a verb to indicate negation as a contrary choice or wish
rather than continue the argument, he walked away

emhasis added to definition

Note that the word order of the example can be changed to be parallel to your example:
He walked away rather than continue the argument.

So, that and your example include a conjugated verb and and an infinitive.

The other example at that M-W definition uses rather than with two infinitives:
...chose to sing rather than play violin.

Then, at M-W there is this discussion of uses of rather than:
Merrriam-Webster conjunction or preposition

There, they say that uses of rather than with non-parallel verbs are preposition uses, which contradicts their classification of their first example sentence under "conjunction".

Your example sentence doesn't sound wrong, but it could also use a gerund: rather than bearing....

The dictionaries I looked at don't show an adverb use for the phrase.

  • "Rather" is an adverb in, for example, I'd rather resign than accept such humiliation where it has a comparative meaning of approximately "more readily, in preference to". In such constructions "than" is, of course, a preposition. Interesting, eh?
    – BillJ
    Mar 20, 2022 at 8:20
  • Yes, interesting. If you change the word order I'd resign rather than accept ... would that change the analysis? Mar 20, 2022 at 20:35

"Rather than" is a very unusual phrase (or collocation, if you prefer to think of it that way) for at least two reasons:

  1. Following it with a finite verb (especially one with the "-s" third person singular ending) often sounds strange, even when it is correct.
  2. Sometimes it introduces a finite clause or predicate headed by a bare infinitive. CGEL (Quirk et al.) gives this example (section 14.16):

He paid the fine rather than appeal to a higher court.

That explains why "bear" is a bare infinitive in your example.

However, that sentence sounds a bit strange to me, as I'm sure it does to many other readers. We can reorganize it by putting the matrix clause into the active voice and removing the "rather than" structure from the relative clause:

Thus, the society that lives with whatever happens accepts it consciously or unconsciously rather than bear(s) the consequences of confronting it.

I gave the option of the finite form "bears", which is possible if you treat "rather than" as a coordinator. However, both "bear" and "bears" still sound strange to me. We can fix that problem by introducing a modal auxiliary, thus making the bare infinitive sound entirely natural:

Thus, the society that lives with whatever happens will accept it consciously or unconsciously rather than bear the consequences of confronting it.

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