Modals of Preference

To express a preference when different choices are possible, you can use would rather.  Because it is followed by the base form of a verb, it functions as a modal auxiliary. Study the examples below.

I would rather stay home.

I would rather play tennis.

Separate choices with “than”

When the choices are named, they are separated by than, as in the following examples.

I would rather go to the beach than study on such a nice day.

I would rather be rich than poor.

Prefer someone else do something

When you prefer that someone else do something, the formula is:

subject + would rather + subject + simple past verb tense

For example:

I would rather you drove home.

Note:  Although the simple past tense is used in the above example, it refers to the present or future.

Prefer someone not do something

When you don't want someone to do something, the formula is:

subject + would rather + subject + didn't + do something

For example:

I'd rather you didn't do that.

Person A:  Do you mind if I stop to do some shopping on the way home?
Person B:  I'd rather you didn't.  I don't want to miss the beginning of the hockey game on TV. 

Negative form

The negative is:

subject + would + rather + not + verb

For example:

I’d rather not catch a bus.  Let’s take a taxi instead.

Note:  The subject and would are often contracted (I’d, we’d, she’d, etc.).

Other Ways of Expressing Preference

To say what is generally preferred, you can use prefer + infinitive or prefer + gerund, as in the following examples.

I prefer to eat at home. (prefer + infinitive

I prefer eating at home. (prefer + gerund)

Structures following “prefer”

The following three structures can follow prefer:

Structure Example
prefer + noun to noun I prefer hot chocolate to tea.
prefer + doing something to doing something different I prefer drinking hot chocolate to drinking tea.
prefer + to do something + rather than + do something else I prefer to drink hot chocolate rather than drink tea.

Using “would prefer

The structure would prefer is used to talk about what someone wants in a specific situation, not all the time, and is followed by an infinitive verb or a noun.  See the following examples.

Would you prefer spaghetti or fish for dinner?

Would you prefer to catch a bus or take a taxi home after the party? 

Note: Unlike would rather, prefer and would prefer are not followed directly by base verbs, so they are not modals.

When you are sure that you understand the lesson, you can continue with the exercises.