Would Rather

Inversion
Would you rather do this or that?. dane_mark / Getty Images

Both would rather and would prefer are used to express preferences in English.  Here are some examples of short conversations that use would rather and would prefer to either state or ask for a preference.

John: Let's go out tonight.
Mary: That's a good idea.
John: How about going to a film? There's a new film out with Tom Hanks.
Mary: I'd rather go out for dinner. I'm hungry!
John: Okay. Which restaurant would you prefer?


Mary: I'd prefer to eat at Johnny's. They serve great steaks.

Sue: I'm not sure which topic to choose for my essay.
Debby: Well, what are your choices?
Sue: I can write about the economy or about a book.
Debby: Which would you rather write about?
Sue: I'd prefer to write about a book.
Debby: How about Moby Dick?
Sue: No, I'd rather write about Timothy's Gift.

Would Rather - Structure

Use would rather plus the simple form of the verb. It's common to use would rather in the shortened 'd rather form in positive statements. Use Would rather to refer to the present moment or a future moment in time. Here are the structures:

Positive

Subject + would rather ('d rather) + verb

Peter'd rather spend time on the beach.
I would rather learn a new language than study math.

Question

Would + subject + rather + verb 

Would you rather stay at home?
Would they rather do homework tomorrow morning?

Negative

Subject + would rather ('d rather) + not + verb 

She'd rather not go to class today.
I'd rather not answer that question.

Would Rather Than

Would rather is often used with than when making a choice between two specific actions:

Would you rather eat dinner out than cook dinner tonight?
She would rather play tennis than go horseback riding.

Would Rather Or

Would rather can also be used to ask for a choice between two with the conjunction or:

Would you rather eat here or go out?
Would you rather study or watch TV?

Would Rather Someone Do

Would rather is also used to express what one person prefers another person would do. The structure is similar to the unreal conditional because it expresses an imaginary wish. However, the form is also used to ask a polite question.

S + would rather + Person + past verb 

Tom would rather Mary bought a SUV.
Would you rather she stayed here with us?

Positive

Subject + would rather ('d rather) + object + past tense

I would rather my son worked in finance.
Susan would rather Peter took a plane.

Question

Would + subject + rather + object + past tense

Would you rather her sister flew home tomorrow?
Would you rather he came with us to the meeting?

Would Prefer

It's also possible to use would prefer instead of would rather to speak about present preferences. In this case, follow prefer by the infinitive form of the verb:

Positive

Subject + would prefer ('d prefer) + infinitive (to do)

Jennifer would prefer to stay at home tonight.
The teacher'd prefer to have the test next week.

Question

Would + subject + prefer +  infinitive (to do)

Would you prefer to go out for dinner tonight?
Would they prefer to stay in New York for the week?

Expressing Preferences with Prefer

Use the simple present with prefer to express general preferences between people, places or objects. Use the preposition to to state your preference:

Positive

Subject + prefer  + object + to + object

She prefers coffee to tea. 
I prefer summer vacations to winter vacations. 

Question

Do + subject + prefer +  object + to + object

Do you prefer wine to beer?
Does she prefer New York to Chicago?

When stating preferences for activities, use prefer followed by either the gerund or the infinitive form of the verb: 

Positive

Subject + prefer  +  to do / doing + object

My friend prefers to finish his chores early in the morning. 
Jack prefers doing his homework at home to doing it in the library.

Question

Do + subject + prefer +  to do / doing + object

When do you prefer staying at home to going out at night?


Does she prefer to eat in restaurants?

Preferences Quiz I

Fill in the gap with the correct form of the verb (do, to do, doing, did):

  1. Jennifer'd rather _____ (stay) home for dinner tonight.
  2. I think I'd prefer _______ (play) chess today.
  3. Would you rather I _____ (leave) you alone?
  4. I'd rather the students _____ (study) for their test.
  5. Peter prefers _____ (relax) at home on the weekend.

Preferences Quiz II

Fill in the gap with to, than, or:

  1. Do you prefer coffee _____ tea?
  2. I think I'd prefer _____ drive to California. 
  3. Would you rather go to the club _____ go to the beach? (asking for a choice)
  4. He'd rather work all day _____ go to the beach! (make a specific choice)
  5. My friend prefers Japanese food _____ American food.

Quiz Answers

Quiz I

  1. stay
  2. to play 
  3. left
  4. study
  5. relaxing / to relax

Quiz II

  1. to
  2. to
  3. or
  4. than
  5. to