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He says he would rather be carrying a pen. ( instead of the other item he is carrying now, for example book)

He says he would rather carrying a pen. ( instead of the other item he is carrying now, for example book)

Could you please simplify the meaning of each one, so that I can get what the grammar is. Is the first one talking about future? The second about now?

  • Is there context that makes this difficult to understand? Because it seems totally straightforward. He would rather be carrying a pen (he says.) – Adam Jan 31 '15 at 22:27
  • @Adam -I changed the question. Looking forward your help. – user5036 Jan 31 '15 at 22:57
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First of all, it's a he, not a she.pic
The meaning is: he would rather be carrying a pen instead of the other item/items.
Really, that's as simplified as it can get.

  • -I changed my question. Could you please read it again. Thank you in advance. – user5036 Jan 31 '15 at 22:56
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The second sentence is not technically valid grammar, though it does appear in verbal

He says he would rather be carrying a pen.

This says he would rather be in the current situation carrying a pen. Often this means he's carrying something else. The focus is on the state of being.

He says he would rather carrying a pen.

This one is tricky (because it isn't quite grammatical). I would expect to see someone say this as a shorthand for doing an activity which is specified earlier.

Think you're up for taking on the gladiator with nothing but a sword?

I'd rather carrying a pen.

In this pattern, he/she's really being lazy and intending to say "I'd rather [take the gladiator on] carrying a pen." The focus is on the act. In fact, the focus is on the act with such extreme emphasis that the speaker doesn't even feel like he/she needs to say it again. He/she just assumes the listener knows what he's talking about.

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He says he would rather be carrying a pen.

You use the phrase "would rather" for saying that you would prefer to do something. For example, Would you go with us or stay at home? I would rather stay at home. I would rather read my book than watch the TV.

He says he would rather carrying a pen.

This sentence is grammatically incorrect. You use the structure would + be + present participle (-ing form of the form) to form this sentence in the future continuous.

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He says he would rather carrying a pen. -- without commas and context, this one isn't right. (And even with commas and context, it's awkward.) You could say, "He says he would rather be carrying a pen" or "He says he would rather carry a pen."

The first one means that he is doing one thing, or has an option to do something, and he would prefer to be carrying a pen. And he is saying this out loud.

It's about as simple as it can get, as said by Bob.

"He says" -- he speaks, he tells someone, he uses his words.

"he would rather be" -- he would prefer to be (instead of than what he's doing, or as a response to a request, or as a response to a choice)

"carrying" -- toting, using his body to counter the gravitational pull of the Earth...

"a pen" -- a thing that uses ink to write with, presumably, as it would be hard to carry the enclosure for animals that is also called a "pen."

It's talking about what he wants to be doing, but is not currently doing.

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John says he would rather be carrying a pen.

means he is carrying something other than a pen, and he would prefer that he were carrying a pen. (I'm replacing your first He with John to make it easier to refer to him in the text below.)

The time that is being talked about is ambiguous. Sorry, but this is going to be complicated.

The word says is in the present tense, but in English, we seldom use the simple present to mean an action happening right now. Here, says means that the sentence describes John's current preference, not that right now he is in the act of stating his preference. John may have said this yesterday, or last month (or even centuries ago, depending on context). The sentence means: "Some time in the past, John said his preference, and he prefers to be carrying a pen."

The word be is infinitive, so it doesn't have a tense. However, it's combined with carrying, so it forms be carrying, a continuous infinitive. This suggests that John is carrying something other than a pen right now, and would like to carry a pen instead right now, but it's still not completely unambiguous.

The word would is a strange word in English: technically, it's the past tense of will, but you use would for past, present, and future. This is because in English, one use of the past tense is to describe a hypothetical or imaginary situation in the present or the future. The sentence describes an imaginary situation that John prefers, so would doesn't indicate the time when that situation is imagined to exist.

So, without context, the continuous infinitive be carrying suggests that John's preference is that he would like to be carrying a pen right now, but the time is not clear.

With context, though, it can become clear. Here are some contexts where your sentence would make sense.

Here is an old movie of John walking along the street, carrying a shovel. In the movie, John says he would rather be carrying a pen. [The imagined pen-carrying happens in the past for the person speaking, but in the present for John in the movie.]

Here is the latest version of our movie. As you can see, John is carrying a shovel. I talked to him this morning, though, and he says he would rather be carrying a pen. [The imagined pen-carrying occurs in an imaginary modification of the current version of the movie.]

John has been carrying a shovel to work every day since 1999. He says he would rather be carrying a pen. [Here, the time is the habitual present. John imagines that his current job were different, so that his habitual behavior right now would include carrying a pen instead of a shovel.]

John says he would rather be carrying a pen in 2029. [Here, the imagined pen-carrying is 14 years in the future. The continuous aspect suggests that the imagined pen-carrying is habitual behavior in 2029.]

The lesson to learn from all this is that the infinitive doesn't have a tense of its own, and the time it refers to adjusts to suit the context.


This sentence is ungrammatical:

John says he would rather carrying a pen.

It's ungrammatical because would rather takes an infinitive or a subjunctive clause, not a gerund. You can say "John says he would rather be carrying a pen" (infinitive) or "John says he would rather that he were carrying a pen" (subjunctive) but not the version with a gerund. I don't think there is any useful general rule to know about why this is. The important thing to know is: in English, each standard phrase has its own customs for which other phrases it will combine with.

These sentences are grammatical:

John says he would prefer carrying a pen.

John says he would prefer to be carrying a pen.

John says he would prefer that he were carrying a pen.

But this isn't grammatical:

John says he would prefer be carrying a pen.

I recommend that you not memorize the grammatical terms and rules. Instead, memorize the phrases. This is how English speakers do it: they make new phrases by analogy with familiar phrases, not by following rules.

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