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When do you use "rather" vs. "prefer" to?

I don't know when to use "rather" or "prefer", can someone explain the difference?

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The meaning of "would rather" (keep the two together) is the same as "would prefer". The way you use them is different. 

I'd rather stay.        but       I'd prefer.

I'd = I would

However, if "would rather" is contrasted with "prefer"( alone, with no "would" preceding it), the meaning is shifted. The former (would rather) will be used in the moment, while the latter (prefer) will refer to a more "constant" preference.

I'd rather have fish. (Said when you're about to order)

but

I prefer eating fish. (Used to express a "constant", or general, preference)

Notice the form of the verb used. After "would rather" you will use a base form, for  example "have". After prefer you will use "eating", to stick to the example given above, (or "to eat" if you prefer).

 

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7 Answers

Rather is used when talking about an action.  

Example:  I would rather.....[insert verb]......than......[insert verb]....

Prefer is used when stating a persons preference of a person place or thing.                     Example: I prefer.......[insert noun]

Note,

I prefer blue to green.     vs      I would rather blue to green.

or 

I would rather swim than hike.     vs     I prefer swim to hike.

Note that swim (a verb) can be changed to the noun swimming (a thing one can do in water) such that 

I prefer swimming to hiking.  

You can prove that swimming and hiking are nouns here by putting them with rather.

I would rather swimming than hiking.  

This "rather" sentence is incorrect, although someone might infer that you must mean "rather GO swimming than GO hiking. 

 

The word "rather" is often used when you are comparing two ideas and favor one of them over the other one.  For example: " I would rather study than go shopping in the mall today. " (You are preferring studying over shopping.)  "Rather" is usually used in a "would rather"  and "than" comparison sentence.

However, if I say, "I prefer chocolate ice cream." - I am stating what I like and I am implying that I like chocolate over the other flavors.  However, with the verb "prefer", I do not need to explain the entire comparison or the two ideas being compared.

 

 

 

When we talk about general preferences we can use prefer or would rather. The meaning is the same, for example: I prefer walking to cycling. I'd rather walk than cycle. After prefer we use the verb in its ing form. After would rather we use than, for example: I prefer using a keyboard to writing with a pen.I'd rather use a keyboard than write with a pen. 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, for example: I'd rather you took a taxi than walk - it's not safe on the streets at night or "The film is quite violent. I'd rather our children didn't watch it."

The meaning of "would rather" (keep the two together) is the same as "would prefer". The way you use them is different.
I'd rather stay. but I'd prefer.
I'd = I would
However, if "would rather" is contrasted with "prefer"( alone, with no "would" preceding it), the meaning is shifted. The former (would rather) will be used in the moment, while the latter (prefer) will refer to a more "constant" preference.
I'd rather have fish. (Said when you're about to order)
but
I prefer eating fish. (Used to express a "constant", or general, preference)
Notice the form of the verb used. After "would rather" you will use a base form, for example "have". After "prefer" you will use "eating", to stick to the example given above, (or "to eat" if you prefer).

- Dorota G. less than a minute ago

Rather is always followed by a bare (to-less) verb in a subjunctive construction:

  • (would rather verb)

*When used without a comparison, as above, one may glean an inference that the other option is implausible

 When used with a comparison, the form is

  • (would rather verb1    THAN   verb2    OR   verb3...)

Prefer may be followed by an infinitive in a subjunctive construction, a gerund or a noun.

  • (would prefer to verb)
  • (prefer verb-ing)
  • (prefer buttons)

*Prefer can never be mistaken to mean that other options are implausible, but leaves them as possible alternatives.

When used with a comparison, the forms utilise the prepositions over or to:

  • (would prefer to verb1    OVER  verb2-ing        OR   verb3-ing...)

*note the non-parallel structure and use of or, this is fine and avoids ambiguity and redundancy.

  • (prefer verb1-ing        TO  verb2-ing    AND   verb3-ing...)
  • (prefer noun1             TO  noun2        AND   noun3...)

*all nouns and verbs have the option of being modified in any of these constructions.

 

Much of this is based on common, everyday usage or general expressions.  I prefer is not used very often because we tend to say "I like" instead.  They have quite similar meanings but we find other ways of saying how we feel which are more simple and direct. 

We use "rather" usually when referring to things we want to do.  In other words, "rather" is used more often to describe actions.  Once upon a time, we would say, "I'd rather go to the mall" but today we say "I want to go to the mall" or "Let's go to the mall" or "I like the mall better." 

When we use "prefer" we are usually expressing preference when deciding or comparing two or more things (nouns).  But we usually say "I like vanilla better than chocolate" when in the past we would say "I prefer chocolate to vanilla."

 

The easiest way to look at this is:

rather is followed by a verb - Example - I rather go to the mall.

prefer is followed by an infinitive - Example - I prefer to go to the mall.

I hope this helps.

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TO GO is a verb in its Infinitive verbal form

"go" is a verb as well -- the conjugation of the verb To Go in the Present Simple Tense.

The easiest way to remember: you don't use "to" before the verb when using the verb with "rather". Also remember: it is "I'd rather go"  -- the short form of "I would rather go".

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