Expressing your preferences in English: Would rather/sooner, Had better, Prefer

In a world full of opportunities, it would be nice to correctly express your preferences. After all, you must admit, just saying “I want that” is somehow boring =)

So, there are several constructions that help us formulate preferences in a particular issue. These are prefer, would rather / sooner, had better. Globally, they have similar meanings, however, to use them correctly, you need to get to know them better.
 

Prefer

You can prefer one thing (a noun) to another thing or some action (a verb) to another one. It depends on the object of preference how the word prefer and all its surroundings will behave.
If we are talking about a noun, we follow this instruction:

Prefer + noun + TO + noun

I prefer coffee to tea.
He prefers laptop to PC.
We prefer winter to summer.

If we single out one action against another one, the following construction comes in handy:

Prefer + V-ing + TO + V-ing

I prefer waking up early in the morning to sleeping late.
They prefer reading books to watching TV.

Also, talking about the action, you can use the following construction:

Prefer + TO-infinitive + rather than + bare infinitive

I prefer to discuss it now rather than wait until it’s too late.
She prefers to go to the gym rather than work out at home.

 

Would rather / sooner

When using would rather it is important to remember two points:

  • a preference can be about ourselves or about another person
  • a preference can be expressed about the present / future or the past

Let's start with who the preference is directed to.
If the subject of would rather is the subject of the following verb, we use the following construction:

would rather + bare infinitive (for present and future tense)
Let’s watch something? - Sorry, I would rather go to sleep now.

would rather + bare infinitive + THAN + bare infinitive (for present and future tense)
I would rather go for a walk than listen to this dull lecture.

would rather + perfect infinitive (for the past tense)
I would rather have talked to them yesterday.

If the subject of would rather is DIFFERENT from the subject of the following verb, we use the following construction:

would rather + smb + past tense (for present and future tense)
I would rather you stayed for one more day.

would rather + smb + past perfect (for past tense)
I would rather you hadn’t taken my car last night.
 

Had better

We use the had better + bare infinitive to give advice, or to say what is better to do in a particular situation. In its meaning, it is stronger than the modal verbs should and ought to, but weaker than the verb must.

How long have you had this headache? You had better call the doctor!
We had better book the ticket earlier.

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