Preferences are one of the most basic conversational demands when given a choice between two items, Which one to select. There are indeed different ways in English we can ask about preferences. To ask about people’s general tastes or preferences, we often use words like: prefer, would prefer, would rather and like to say we like or give priority one thing or activity more than another.
Preferences (Prefer, Would Prefer, Would Rather And Like)
To ask about people’s general tastes or preferences, we can use one of the following.
- Which do you prefer juice or water? I prefer water to juice.
- Which do you prefer drinking juice or water? I prefer drinking water to juice.
- Which do you prefer to drink juice or water? I prefer to drink water. (Or I prefer drinking water to juice.)
- Which do you like better water or juice? I like water better than juice.
- Do you prefer water or juice? I prefer water to juice.
- Would you prefer to see a movie or go to a club? I would prefer to see a movie.
- Would you rather go shopping with me? I would rather go shopping.
These expressions mentioned in the sentences are quite different in meaning, in forms and different prepositions to sate choice.
The Difference in meaning (Prefer, would prefer and would rather)
Prefer: We use the word ‘prefer’ to talk generally about likes, dislikes, what we want.
- I much prefer Jazz music to rock music.
- I prefer going to the beach to going to a swimming pool.
Would rather and would prefer: We use the words would prefer and would rather when we speak about a specific preference, would rather and would prefer have the same meaning and are interchangeable. Remember that they are different in the form.
- I would rather play in the defense.
- I would prefer doing my homework to watching TV.
Note: We can use Prefer, would rather to express general preference.
- I prefer walking to cycling. (Expressing general preference)
- I would rather walk than cycle. (Expressing general preference)
Difference in form (Prefer, would prefer and would rather)
Prefer and would prefer:
Prefer and would prefer can be followed by Infinitive, Gerund and Noun.
- I prefer/ ‘d prefer living in a city. (Followed by gerund)
- I prefer/ ‘d prefer to live in a city. (Followed by infinitive)
- I prefer/ ‘d prefer eating Pakistani food. (Followed by the gerund)
- I prefer/ ‘d prefer to eat Pakistani food. (Followed by infinitive)
- I prefer/ ‘d prefer fruit juice. (Followed by a noun)
Would rather is followed by the bare infinitive (base form of the verb).
- Would you rather stay at a hotel?
- I would rather stay at a hotel.
- I’d rather have fruit juice.
Note 1: We use a past tense after would rather when we speak about the actions of other people, even though that action may be in the present or future.
- I’d rather you took a taxi (instead of walking) – it’s not safe on the streets at night.
- The film is quite violent. I’d rather our children didn’t watch it.
Note 2: We can use much with prefer, would prefer and would rather to make the preference stronger. In speaking, we stress much.
- I’d much rather make a phone call than send an email.
- I much prefer teaching to working in a factory.
- She’d much rather they didn’t know about what had happened.
Remember: When we want to refer to the past, we use would rather + have + -ed form (perfect infinitive without to):
- She would rather have spent the money on a holiday (The money wasn’t spent on a holiday).
Different prepositions to state the choice.
Prefer and would prefer: We use the preposition “to” to state a choice with prefer and would prefer, but if prefer is followed by infinitive we can use the preposition “than” to state the choice.
- I’d prefer living in a city to living in the country.
- I would prefer being alone to being with the wrong person”.
- I prefer to live in a city than to live in the country.
Rather than: used with the infinitive form of a verb to indicate negation as a contrary choice or wish. We say: would prefer . . . rather than / instead of.
- I’d prefer to sing rather than play the violin.
I’d prefer to be happier rather than sad.
Would rather: We use the preposition “than” to state choice with would rather.
- I’d rather walk than drive.
- They would rather play than work.
- Would you prefer to go skiing this year or beach holiday?
- I would prefer not to go skiing this year. I would prefer to go in the beach holiday.
Like: We can use like to talk about things or people which we enjoy or feel positive about.
Like + noun phrase
- I like Sarah but I don’t like her brother much.
- Do you like pasta?
- She really likes the singing of Atif Aslam.
Like + -ing
- I like reading before breakfast.
- He likes telling jokes.
Like + to-infinitive
- She likes to go and see her parents at the weekend.
- I don’t like to cycle in the dark.
- Do you think she would like us to bring some chocolates or flowers?
Like + wh-clause
- I don’t like what he did.
- We liked how they cooked the fish.
We talked about preferences, which is one of the most conversational demands, for this purpose, we use the words: like, prefer, would prefer and would rather to say we give priority or like one thing more than another. Remember these words are not in any progressive tenses.