But rather: Is it grammatically correct & how should I use it in a sentence?

In the English language, several words and phrases are used regularly in day to day speech and writing. However, some of these phrases might confuse people whose mother tongue is not our language.

One such phrase is “but rather”.

“But rather” is a grammatically correct phrase usually showing contrast.

For example, I might say “I didn’t eat at McDonald’s, but rather burger king” or I could say “The food is expensive, but rather good”.

In this article, we’ll be looking at how you should punctuate the phrase, how it can take on different meanings, where the words come from, as well as taking a look at some of the various definitions of “rather”.

Remember the comma when using “but rather”

99% of the time, when you use the phrase “but rather”, you will need to put a comma before the “but”. This is because the word “but” is a conjunction, meaning it connects two clauses of a sentence.

“I didn’t go to the park, but rather the beach.”

In this sentence, the first clause talks about the park, the second is about the beach. Both of them are joined by the conjunction “but”.

You could remove the “rather”, and the sentence would have the same meaning.

“I didn’t go to the park, but the beach.”

As we can see, the “rather” doesn’t add any additional information, but you might like how it sounds.

Don’t over do the commas

If you wanted to, you would even be able to put commas all around “but rather”. This would not be grammatically incorrect, but it would be highly unnecessary, and readers would likely become annoyed.

“I didn’t go to the park, but, rather, the beach.”

As you can see in this sentence, if you were to read it out loud, you would have two pauses in the middle of the sentence. This does not add anything. It doesn’t change the meaning, and it won’t have a positive impact on the reader.

The only comma we need is before the “but”.

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Why should I use “but rather”?

The odd thing about “but rather” is that it’s made up of two words with very similar meanings. Both “but” and “rather” are being used to compare two things against one another.

When you’re writing or talking, you could drop either one of the words, and have your sentence keep the same meaning that it did before.

“I didn’t drink beer, but rather cider.”

“I didn’t drink beer, but cider.”

“I didn’t drink beer, rather cider.”

As we can see here, all three of the sentences have the same meaning. And all of them are grammatically correct.


For those who want to really show off how well you know the English language, you could even replace the “but” with a semi-colon.

“I didn’t drink beer; rather cider.”

In our language, the semicolon can be used as a replacement for a connective. This can be ideal for when you need to keep your word count short. However, when writing for a general audience, using a connective can be more impactful for the reader.

Which one works best for you will depend on your writing style, the purpose of your writing, and your audience.

The other definition of “rather”

As well as being a connective, the word “rather” can also be an adjective. For those who forgot your English lessons, an adjective is a word that describes a noun.

“Rather” is when something is less than “very” but more than “not”.

For example, if I were to say “I am rather tall”, I would be saying that I’m taller than average, but I’m hardly a giant.

If we throw this into a sentence with the word “but”, I might say something like “I am skinny, but rather talk”.

Once again, “but” is the connective between the two clauses.

Origin of the term “but rather”


There are many words that we use all the time, but don’t often think about. The English language is one that’s gone through a lot of adjustments and changes over the years.

In Old English, the word for “but” was “butan” or “buton”, as you can see, this is similar to the modern world, but we decided to remove the final two letters.

The Old English words for “but” came from the West Germanic “Beutan”. When translated literally, “be-utan” becomes “by-without”.

And today, “but” is a word that we will usually see several times a day, without even thinking about it.


“Rather” is also a word that we hear and use commonly. However, not quite as naturally as “but”, and just like “but”, it has had several changes throughout the years.

In Old English the word for “rather” was “hraþor”, and please, don’t ask me how to pronounce this, as I have no idea.

“hraþor” comes from the Proto-Germanic “khratha”, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European “Kret”, meaning “to shake”.

How on Earth “shake” came to mean “rather” is beyond me.

Proto-Indo-European is the root language of most of the languages of Europe. It was one of the very first languages that ever came into existence. Without it, it’s unlikely we would have the ability to communicate that we have today.

Alternatives to using “but rather”

If for whatever reason, you don’t want to use “but rather”, not to worry, there are plenty of alternatives you can use instead.

  • I didn’t drink coffee, but instead tea.
  • I don’t usually drink coffee, but more tea.
  • I’m really into running; however, I love swimming.
  • My dog is small but fairly playful.
  • He’s a slow learner, but relatively passionate.

And those are just the ones I could think of, there are plenty of other alternatives out there.


“But rather” is a word that we hear a lot, but rarely give much thought to.

It can be a way of saying you don’t like/do one thing, but you do like/do something else.

“I didn’t sleep, but rather played video games.”

Or it can be a way of saying that what something lacks in one area, it makes up for in another.

“I’m slow, but rather strong”.

I hope that after reading this, you’ve learnt a thing or two about “but rather”, and you’ll now feel more confident when using it in your sentences.