Date: Thu, 27 Nov 1997 21:33:08 -0600


Subject: had/would rather

A couple of weeks ago Greg Downing posted a query about had/would rather.

(I accidentatlly deleted his query to which I wanted to respond, so I have

to rely on my not-too-dependable memory for the nature of the query.) I

was surprised that his posting got no attention, but then my age shows

again, and I'm not very old.

Greg thought 'had rather' seemed not to be grammatical somehow,** or was

inappropriate. I remember back in the 1950s teaching from a high school

grammar book that said 'had rather' was preferable to 'would rather'. I

just now checked some college handbooks from the '70s and didn't find it

listed, though one listed a quibble over 'rather than' (having to do with

the "fact" that 'than' is a conjunction rather than a preposition).

So I went to the absolute BEST source on questions like this: the superior

scholarship of Ward Gilman in WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH USAGE. If

you don't have it and you're serious about being on this List, go get it.

It doesn't cost much.

WDEU has a 1.5"-column on 'had rather'. The quarrel over 'would' and 'had'

goes back a long way (I also had to inveigh against 'long ways' in my high

school classes). I suppose some of the prescribers preferred 'had rather'

because that was the form Shakespeare used (38 times!).

It's a complex historical matter. **Subjunctive mood is involved, and who

knows about that stuff nowadays? It's indirectly related to the archaism

'had lief' used in Appalachian and other conservative dialects.

I repeat: If you've got about 25 bucks that you can part with, go get this

valuable reference book (WDEU). Look up 'hadn't ought' as well and see

what Harry Truman said. A valuable reference for scholars in all quarters

of the globe where English is in use.