[Source:] The British Military Governor in Germany, Air Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, was strongly opposed. He wrote: "We are apparently prepared to send these men, including one who is 73, to trial by the Americans. I frankly do not like this. I feel that if the Americans wish to be critical in our inaction in trying war criminals, I should prefer that they should continue to criticise rather than ♦ that we should commit an injustice in order to avoid their criticism." ♦

1. Any other formal terms describing this syntax? I know that rather than is a conjunction.
I added the lozenges to surround my guess at what is the that-clause (in this quote).

2. I can't pinpoint why, but this syntax looks strange and wrong to me? How can I naturalise it?

3. To investigate 2, I tried to replace rather than with its synonyms. So is it perfectly right to form instead of + that-clause, in place of + that-clause, ... ?

Footnote: I had never before encountered this syntax (which seemed more intricate); so suspected that Sir Sholto studied languages in some way. I seem to be right; he did classics at Lincoln College, Oxford.

  • 1
    It looks strange to you because it is consciously British. And last century's British, to boot. From books, movies, TV, and large numbers of internet interactions, you are probably (and subconsciously) more comfortable with the American idiom. The Brits love their subjunctive and putative shoulds. We use that less over here. In re: (3), I'd be comfortable with the substitution of instead of but not in place of, which seems misfit. – Dan Bron Feb 28 '15 at 17:01
  • I was going to say I'd much prefer ...the Americans wish to be critical of our inaction... rather than in. But checking Google Books I see it's mistranscribed here - the original was ...critical about our inaction... (which is also fine by me). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 1 '15 at 14:42

It's parallelism:

I should prefer
that they should continue to criticise
rather than
that we should commit an injustice in order to avoid their criticism.

rather than = "not the following"; expressing a preference for the former in a pair of alternatives.

It's not quite the same as "instead of" because "instead of" cannot take as complement a that-clause.

P.S. Instead of = in (the) place of.
Thus 'instead of' needs a nominal because of "of". A gerund can follow 'instead of':

I should prefer
their criticizing
instead of
our committing an injustice

| improve this answer | |
  • +1. Thank you. Would you please enlarge on "instead of" cannot take as complement a that-clause ? Why not? Or are there books on this subject? – Accounting Mar 1 '15 at 16:07
  • A predication cannot occupy a place but an entity can. In place of the {something} occupying it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 1 '15 at 16:23

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