instead of/rather than

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instead of/rather than

Post by navi » Fri Aug 08, 2014 9:28 am

Are these sentences correct:

1-I hope they will fire you and bring experts here to change the system once and for all instead of you fixing problems as they arise one after the other.

2-I hope they will fire you and bring experts here to change the system once and for all rather than you fixing problems as they arise one after the other.

Is there any difference in the meanings?
In both cases the addressee is working 'there' and is fixing problems as they arise, but is unable to change the system in a global manner.

Gratefully,
Navi.
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Re: instead of/rather than

Post by Phil White » Fri Aug 08, 2014 2:03 pm

I can't see any significant distinction, indeed, I can't even see an insignificant distinction.

I think both would be used, and I have no idea which I would opt for. My only suspicion is that "instead of" is slightly more common, but I have no evidence for that.

This very much goes against my oft-stated position that real synonyms are extremely rare in English. You seem to have hit on a pretty common one, at least in this context.

In other contexts, there may be distinctions. "Rather than" usually indicates preference, whereas "instead of" indicates a departure from normal or expected practice.
  • It was a beautiful day, so he cycled to work rather than taking the train.
    It was his preference, but "instead of" would be fine here as well.
  • The station was closed for renovation, so he cycled to work instead of taking the train.
    It's not a question of preference, but I suspect that some speakers would use "rather than" in this case as well.
In other words, even if there is a relatively clear motivation for using one or the other, speakers are not fussy which one they use.

With your two sentences, it might be possible to argue that "rather than" indicates the speaker's preference and "instead of" indicates that it would be a departure from normal practice, but both these aspects are explicit in the entire sentence, so I don't think they are also carried by "instead of" or "rather than".
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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