Had you rather...

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Hi,
It's from the book "Silence of the Lambs".

You're hopping around the truth. If you're tired, we could talk toward the end of the week. I'm rather bored myself. Or had you rather talk now?

I assume it's another version for "would you rather." Is it literary style? Do you ever hear this version in everyday spoken English?
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Had rather' is the difficult-to-explain construction used in everyday 'had better'; other variations include 'had as soon'. It seems rather literary. I wonder if it persists because the usual contraction 'you'd rather/better' is not clear about which auxiliary is used.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    This construction has been around for a while. The OED's first citation of this construction with rather is:
    1478 M. PASTON in Paston Lett. (1904) V. 325, I had rather that ye never maryd in yowyr lyffe.
    The OED explains it thus, under have:
    22. a. The past Subjunctive had = would have, is used idiomatically with adjectives (or adverbs) in the comparative, as better, liefer, sooner, rather; in the superlative, as best, liefest; or in the positive with ‘as’, as good, as lief, as soon, as well, to express preference or comparative desirability.​
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    This construction has been around for a while. The OED's first citation of this construction with rather is:
    1478 M. PASTON in Paston Lett. (1904) V. 325, I had rather that ye never maryd in yowyr lyffe.
    The OED explains it thus, under have:
    22. a. The past Subjunctive had = would have, is used idiomatically with adjectives (or adverbs) in the comparative, as better, liefer, sooner, rather; in the superlative, as best, liefest; or in the positive with ‘as’, as good, as lief, as soon, as well, to express preference or comparative desirability.
    I can accept I had rather that we talked now, and could easily say it, but I'm still having trouble with Had you rather talk now?

    I'm also happy with I'd rather talk now. I couldn't say I had rather talk now conversely, so I'd rather talk now must be a contraction of I would rather talk now, which sounds fine.
     
    I agree. I wouldn't have trouble with I'd rather talk now either.
    However, bearing in mind that it was used in a book, maybe it's just pure literary style? I don't think Thomas Harris meant "Would you rather..." but wrote "Had you rather..." by accident. ;)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Could it be an intentional mistake? Is the person speaking foreign, or trying to appear so? Some people make mistakes of language in order to disconcert the person they are talking to. Could that be happening here?
     
    Hmmm, I don't think so. It's Dr Lecter talking to Clarice Starling. I don't have a reason to think he would like to disconcert her in any way. I think Harris simply dug out this expression from OED; or maybe I'm just underestimating him. ;)
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I think it is used colloquially in AmE, though I can't prove it. I'll have to start keeping track. It is standard AmE according to the Columbia Guide to Standard American English.

    "I had rather be right than president" (Henry Clay, 1839) is a well-known quote, and paraphrased from time to time for rhetorical effect.

    As Thomas Thompion points out, to use this in a question may be a different thing. I am not certain whether we do use it in question form.

    I don't know this book, but the author is American. Isn't the speaker supposed to be rather affected in his speech?


    William Shakespeare:
    O curse of marriage!

    That we can call these delicate creatures ours,

    And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad

    And live upon the vapour of a dungeon

    Than keep a corner in the thing I love

    For others' uses.
    (Spoken by Othello in the play Othello)
     
    I don't know this book, but the author is American. Isn't the speaker supposed to be rather affected in his speech?
    Well, anyone who's seen the movie The Silence of the Lambs will admit that Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, in the movie) is quite peculiar a guy; and yes, he was especially affected by Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, in the movie).
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Although literary sounding, I had rather is fairly familiar to me, in the sense of I would prefer to. Of course, when contracted, I would rather and I had rather are undistinguishable.

    I made a little search to see if I was totally mistaken. Here's what I found.

    Usage Note: [...]Sometimes had appears in these constructions, although this use of had seems to be growing less frequent: I had rather work with William than work for him. This usage was once widely criticized as a mistake, the result of a misanalysis of the contraction in sentences such as I'd rather stay. But it is in fact a survival of the subjunctive form had that appears in constructions like had better and had best, as in We had better leave now. This use of had goes back to Middle English and is perfectly acceptable.
    Source
    On the other hand, its interrogative form, had you rather [+ bare infinitive], is probably something of a linguistic curio but I'm not really surprised to hear it from the mouth of Hannibal Lecter, a notoriouisly sophisticated gentleman (if I may say so :eek:).

    If both Farlex and I are wrong, then it just means Harris tried to make his character sound educated....and failed. :)
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The grammar is the same: it's the same construction. The meaning is different because the salient parts 'better' and 'rather' have different meanings. I didn't say they were synonymous.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I had rather...:tick:
    I would rather...:tick:
    I'd rather... (could mean either):tick:

    Would you rather...?:tick:
    Had you rather...?:confused::confused::confused:
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Well, anyone who's seen the movie The Silence of the Lambs will admit that Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, in the movie) is quite peculiar a guy; and yes, he was especially affected by Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, in the movie).
    Note: I meant affected in sense #2: "speaking or behaving in an artificial way to make an impression."
     

    almufadado

    Senior Member
    Português de Portugal
    As it is direct speech, it may as well be that there are words missing, as this is a full of innuendo scene:

    "- Had you (the thought of/planned) rather talk now ?"

    In another form it would rather read:

    Clarisse planed to speak with Dr. Lecter that day and get it over with, but Lecter resisted, played his hard-to-get act. After so going around, he then asks her just to put her resolve to the test. If she says yes, she has to indulge him and she loses, if she says no, she will loose because he will not give her what she desperatly needs, an aswer.
    Almufadado

    The "rather" being the liaison between what Dr Lecter "reads" in Clarisse (she had a clear plan/intent) and what are the usual mental games "the lecter" play on people.

    Just my "whole context" interpretation !
     
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    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    It seems like a pretty ordinary AmE expression to me that can be used interchangeably with "would you rather."
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Google returned 634 examples of "had you rather". Some of them are literary, or dated, but here are a couple from everyday contexts:
    You're going to be somewhere in a year; had you rather be right where you are now or had you rather be better off? (Paraphrased from a commercial site.)

    Which sport had you rather watch, baseball, basketball, football, or something else? Source
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    I hear "had you rather" about as often as "you had rather", so it does not sound odd to me, but I prefer to use would with rather unless I feel I have used up my would quota. :)
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    According to the OED, at least according to Cagey's post above, it's a form of the past subjunctive and apparently quite respectable. It may be another example of an older form that's been preserved in AmE but lost in BrE.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    "Had you rather" appears once in the British National Corpus.
    "Would you rather", 76 times.
    "Had you rather" appears once in the Corpus of Contemporary American English.
    "Would you rather", 398 times.

    That seems to me to be a reasonable reflection of their relative use.
    "Would you rather" appears quite often.
    "Had you rather" is a once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I wouldn't call "had you rather" or "had he rather" a once-in-a-blue moon phenomenon, no matter what the corpus says. I am pretty sure I use it, and Cagey has adduced several hundred examples from Google at least, but it does seem pretty colloquial. Did the corpus pick up the Silence of the Lambs usage? Apparently the copy editor let it by.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I checked around. Actually I think the most common form in AmE is probably something like "I'd rather go tomorrow" - the Corpus of Contemporary American English finds 2,417 occurrences. I think the abbreviation here is for "had" not for "would." I think I would quite freely say something like "I had rather that you call him" with no problem.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    [...] I think the abbreviation here is for "had" not for "would." [...]
    How can we possibly know? In my view, those who say "I'd rather" just say "I'd rather", full stop. I don't think they're aware of using either had or would.

    EDIT : At school, I was taught 'I had rather". But I think it's been on the decline ever since. And I suspect it's even more true for had you rather.

    NB : However, I'm still using the former and I'd be ready to join a society for its preservation .:)
     
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    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I would say either "I'd rather" or "I had rather" so they are interchangeable to me. I think at least in writing, one doesn't abbreviate "I would" as "I'd" but speech is different of course. Plus I have the impression from Cagey's post that in fact "I had" is in this construction a respectable alternate form of "I would" anyway, with a long history, so in a way it doesn't make too much difference what is being abbreviated.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Had you rather talk now sounds very strange to me, I can't say I've ever heard it. Due to the context I understood what the writer meant but otherwise I don't think I'd readily grasp the meaning.

    In any case, it's a very, very rare construction on this side of the Atlantic.
     

    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    I don't have the info on hand to prove this right now, but here's the intuition:

    Although we use rather almost synonymously with prefer today, and although it was used almost slangishly to mean quite or somewhat 100 years ago (rather surprising, rather fetching, or even just Rather!), the word originally was not used as a verb and didn't mean prefer. It had more the meaning of instead or otherwise: to be, rather than to seem; I would rather die (as in, I would die first, not, I would prefer to die).

    We still use it this way today, but it is being corrupted and used almost as a verb; you can almost hear someone saying, "He rathers not to go out at night..."
     

    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    Also, I wonder if I had rather comes from an incorrect dissection of I'd rather, where the contraction really stood for I would. I guess Shakespeare's quote would be evidence against that, though.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I believe I had rather became I would rather at some point in time.
    I think there was a time when both coexisted (and, to a certain extent, they still do).

    Obviously, I had rather must have regularly been uttered as I'd rather. As had and would are undistinguishable when contracted, had slowly shifted to would, perhaps under the influence of "I would prefer (to)".

    Only my theory, though.
     

    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    Maybe so, but I would rather makes sense, if you take would in the original sense of willing something to be. What on earth would I had rather mean, except as some sort of colloquialism? Maybe it is the correct and original form, but I certainly don't understand it.
     

    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    In I would prefer,would is only the helping verb; in I would rather, would would be the main verb.

    In that sense, you could say, I would to be a toad, or, I would rather be a toad; but when would it ever be correct to say, I had be a toad?
     

    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Also, I wonder if I had rather comes from an incorrect dissection of I'd rather, where the contraction really stood for I would. I guess Shakespeare's quote would be evidence against that, though.
    See posts 5 and 13 above. Apparently, this is an idiomatic use of the past subjunctive "had" that stretches back into Middle English.
    Maybe so, but I would rather makes sense, if you take would in the original sense of willing something to be. What on earth would I had rather mean, except as some sort of colloquialism? Maybe it is the correct and original form, but I certainly don't understand it.
    I understand your point, and it is somewhat difficult to explain it.
    In I would prefer,would is only the helping verb; in I would rather, would would be the main verb.

    In that sense, you could say, I would to be a toad, or, I would rather be a toad; but when would it ever be correct to say, I had be a toad?
    I don't find this a very compelling argument against this particular function of "had." Any one of us here might well use the following sentence:

    "You had better go to school.":tick:

    If, however, you take out the "better," it doesn't make much sense:

    "You had go to school." :cross:

    The unacceptability of the latter doesn't have any bearing whatsoever on the former.
     
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    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    @Starfrown,

    That makes sense. Then I guess it's not this particular phrase that we need to understand, but the development of that use of had. At least, that's what's still puzzling me.

    I still wish, though, that we could return to the original adverbial use of rather, "rather" than the quasi-verbial way we often use it today.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I believe I had rather became I would rather at some point in time.
    I think there was a time when both coexisted (and, to a certain extent, they still do).

    Obviously, I had rather must have regularly been uttered as I'd rather. As had and would are undistinguishable when contracted, had slowly shifted to would, perhaps under the influence of "I would prefer (to)".

    Only my theory, though.
    Would (or should) rather is used in Chaucer several times. I could find no case of have (or had) rather, so it doesn't look like a simple historical progression, Jean-Michel.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Thanks, Thomas.
    I must admit I focussed mainly on had rather and didn't really try to trace back the use of would rather.
    Not really a proper scientific approach, I'm afraid. <slaps himself>.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    What on earth would I had rather mean, except as some sort of colloquialism? Maybe it is the correct and original form, but I certainly don't understand it.
    As explained in the page I linked in a previous post and in the online etymological dictionary..
    ...
    Mod.Eng. he had better would have been O.E. him (dat.) wære betere.
    Note that the sense of have in had better is the same as in had rather.-- Of course, both phrases aren't synonyms. They're just using the same kind of have.

    Had is the past subjunctive -- hence, expressing a "wish", here -- of have and this particular have, as I understand it, means something like be given. Which justifies the former dative form in Old English (see the above quote from the online ED)
    Hence I had rather stay = (very roughly) I wish I would be given to stay (rather than to leave).

    But, as you see, and as Starfrown pointed out "it is somewhat difficult to explain it." :). Mine was just a "desparate" attempt and I'm not even sure I'm correct in my interpretation of this 'have'.
    However, one thing is sure, it is not a modal or an auxiliary (unllike would) and it does make sense.

    EDIT : And yes, G a, I agree that would rather (+ bare infinitive) is perfectly grammatical as well, if you consider that will expresses volition.

    EDIT2 : The contributors to this thread might find this to be of some interest.
     
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    G a

    Senior Member
    American English, Español mexicano
    Hi, LV4-26,

    I'm getting a glimmer of an idea, and thanks for your explanation. Are you sure you put down all your native languages? If I had as good a grasp of French as you do of English, well...
     
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