Would Rather

Expressing Preferences with Would Rather

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

Would rather is used to express a preference in English. Would rather is the same in meaning as would prefer. These two phrases are used interchangeably to express a preference when making a choice. Here are some examples of short conversations that use would rather 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!

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?

Would Rather - Structure

The form would rather is a little strange because 'rather' is not a verb but is part of an expression that means 'would prefer to'. 'Rather' is usually immediately followed by a verb in base form (verb without 'to'). It's common to use would rather in the shortened 'd rather form in positive statements. All subjects take 'would rather'. Would rather can be used to refer to the present moment or a future moment in time.

Positive

Subject + would rather ('d rather) + base form of verb (do)

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

Question

Would + subject + rather + base form of verb (do)

Would you rather stay at home?


Would they rather do homework tomorrow morning?

Would Rather - Than

Would rather is often used with 'than' with two verbs or objects when making a choice between two specific actions.

Would you rather work for Tom than for Mary?
She would rather play tennis than go horseback riding.

Would Rather - For Other People

Would rather is also used to express what one person prefers another person to do.

The structure is unusual because it takes the past for the preferred action. Here are some examples:

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

Positive

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

I'd rather she didn't come with us today.
Tim would rather Peter didn't join the company.

Would prefer to - Structure

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?

Prefer Doing - Expressing Preferences

Use the simple present with prefer to express general preferences between people or objects.

Use the preposition to to state your preference.

Positive

Subject + prefer  + object

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

Question

Do + subject + prefer +  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?