Frequently, no comma is necessary when using "rather" or "rather...than". However, there are particular sentence structures where commas are required.
We do not typically use a comma to separate "rather" or "rather...than" from the word, phrase, or clause it describes.
I will have a cupcake rather than a cookie.
There are particular sentence structures, however, where commas may be required. For example, when starting a sentence with "rather", add a comma after it.
Rather, they decided to stay home.
Similarly, we add a comma after an introductory phrase starting with "rather...than".
Rather than repair my old motorcycle, I decided to buy a new one.
Use also commas to set off parenthetical or nonessential information
She didn't want to discourage you but, rather, inspire you.
1. When to Use a Comma Before or After 'Rather'
We can use the adverb "rather" to indicate degree, preference, or accuracy.
John was rather upset about her daughter's behavior.
We do not generally use a comma to separate a regular adverb, such as "rather", from the word (verb, adjective, or adverb) it describes.
I would rather not go to the party.
- It's rather cold outside.
- My sister plays the piano rather well.
- She's got a rather nice flair for interior decoration.
There are particular sentence constructions, however, where you may need a comma before or after "rather".
1.1 'Rather' at the beginning of a sentence
We can start a sentence with the adverb "rather" to refer to something stated in the previous sentence. In such a situation, "rather" functions as a conjunctive adverb and should be followed by a comma.
Alex and Mary could have chosen an Italian restaurant. Rather, they decided to go to a brasserie.
Note that in sentences like these, "rather" should be preceded by a period or a semicolon.
Emma could have followed the doctor's treatment; rather, she got a second opinion from a specialist.
Emma could have followed her doctor's treatment, rather, she got a second opinion from a specialist.
Remember that we do not capitalize ordinary words after a semicolon.
- Claire didn't try the soup; rather, she ate a hamburger and french fries.
- James didn't go to the party. Rather, he stayed home and played video games.
- My boyfriend could have surprised me with a necklace; rather, he just wrote a love letter.
1.2 'Rather' as a parenthetical expression
We can also use "rather" to interrupt the sentence flow or introduce parenthetical information in the middle of a sentence. Parenthetical expressions can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence, and must be surrounded by commas.
I don't think that Olivia is nice. She is, rather, impolite and constantly angry.
Note that we can leave out "rather" in the example above without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.
I don't think that Olivia is nice. She is impolite and constantly angry.
- I didn't want to confuse you but, rather, teach you.
- My wife is a doctor, or rather, a dermatologist.
- That boy is not your friend but, rather, your enemy.
2. Using Commas With 'Rather/than'
As a correlative conjunction, "rather...than" is used to express the preference for one thing over another.
Mary decided to text rather than call.
We do not usually use commas before or after correlative conjunctions unless they are linking two independent clauses.
I would rather have lasagna than spaghetti.
- I prefer to visit Japan rather than go to Europe.
- My wife prefers to watch TV rather than go out for dinner.
- I would rather play basketball than go hiking.
2.1 Starting a Sentence With 'Rather than'
We can also use "rather...than" at the start of a sentence. When we do this, we add a comma after the introductory phrase.
Rather than repair the old laptop, I decided to buy a new one.
Do not place a comma, however, if the main part of the sentence comes at the beginning.
The murderer decided to turn himself in rather than remain as a fugitive.
- Rather than buy gold, we decided to invest in platinum and silver.
- Rather than drawing hearts and flowers, I enjoy painting rainbows and candy canes.
- Rather than expand my programming skills, I would like to learn graphic design.
2.2 'Rather than' to introduce a parenthetical expression
You can also use a phrase containing "rather...than" as a side note or parenthetical expression.
Ordering coffee, rather than tea, was an excellent choice.
Notice that we use commas in the example above because we can omit the phrase "rather than tea" without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.
Ordering coffee was an excellent choice.