To look up an entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, use the search window above. For best results, after typing in the word, click on the “Search” button instead of using the “enter” key.

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you type them in the search bar. For best results with compound words, place a quotation mark before the compound word in the search window.

guide to the dictionary



The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. Annual surveys have gauged the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists



The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.



The articles in our blog examine new words, revised definitions, interesting images from the fifth edition, discussions of usage, and more.


See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!



Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at

rath·er (răthər, räthər)
1. More readily; preferably: I'd rather go to the movies.
2. More exactly; more accurately: He's my friend, or rather he was my friend.
3. To a certain extent; somewhat: It's rather cold out. I was rather hoping you'd call.
4. On the contrary: This is not a thoughtful criticism. Rather it is an insult.
5. (răthûr, rä-) Chiefly British Most certainly. Used as an emphatic affirmative reply.

[Middle English, from Old English hrathor, comparative of hræthe, quickly, soon, from hræth, quick.]

Usage Note: In expressions of preference rather is commonly preceded by would: We would rather rent the house than buy it outright. In formal style, should is sometimes used, though this can sound pretentious in American English: I should rather go with you than stay home. Sometimes had appears in these constructions, although this use of had seems to be growing less frequent: I had rather work with Williams than work for him. This usage was once widely criticized as a mistake, but the criticism resulted from a misanalysis of the contraction in sentences such as I'd rather stay. The 'd here is 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. · Before an unmodified noun only rather a is used: It was rather a disaster. When the noun is preceded by an adjective, however, both rather a and a rather are found: It was rather a boring party. It was a rather boring party. Rather a is more typical of British English than American English. When a rather is used in this construction, rather qualifies only the adjective, whereas with rather a it qualifies either the adjective or the entire noun phrase. Thus a rather long ordeal can mean only "an ordeal that is rather long," whereas rather a long ordeal can also mean roughly "a long process that is something of an ordeal." Rather a is the only possible choice when the adjective itself does not permit modification: The horse was rather a long shot (not The horse was a rather long shot).

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.