When we want to express our choices or our preferences of one thing over another, we can use modal structures “would prefer / would rather”.
If we talk about our present or future choices in a specific situation, and the person himself or herself expresses a preference on something, we can use the “subject + “would prefer” + to-infinitive/noun” structure.
I would prefer a quieter place.
I would prefer to do the task by myself.
When we talk about the past, we can use the “subject + “would prefer” + perfect infinitive with the particle to” structure.
I would prefer to have traveled by plane last month.
When we want to show that we would like to do one thing more than something else, we can use “rather than”, followed by a bare infinitive.
I would prefer to go camping rather than stay at home.
We can also use “subject + “would prefer” + object pronoun + to-infinitive” or “subject + would prefer it if + past simple” to talk about our preferences for other people’s actions.
They’d prefer us to be at the meeting.
They’d prefer it if we were at the meeting.
To talk about our preferences for the actions of somebody else referring to the past, the structure will be “object + “would prefer” + perfect infinitive with to”.
Jim would prefer your son to have accepted his money rather than be ignored.
Another structure is “would rather” and we use it as a modal verb of preference.
I would rather go home.
We can also use the conjunction “than” to separate the two clauses.
I would rather be clever than beautiful.
Keep in mind that “would rather” is followed by a bare infinitive, whereas “would prefer” requires a to-infinitive.
When we want to urge other people to do something, “would rather” will be followed by an unreal past tense, even though it has a present or future meaning.
- Shall I tell Mary that we've crashed her car?
- I'd rather you didn't.
When we talk about present and future preferences and when the subject is the same in both clauses, the structure will be “subject + “would rather” + infinitive without to”.
I would rather stay at home than go to the office.
When we refer to the past, we should use “subject + “would rather” + perfect infinitive without to”.
I would rather have stayed at home than gone to the office.
If the subjects of the two clauses are different, we often use the past simple to talk about the present or future, and the past perfect to talk about the past.
I would rather Sam stopped playing computer games.
I would rather Mr. Thomas hadn't rung me about Mary’s school attendance yesterday.
When we want to show the negative preferences or our criticism of a different person/thing, the negative particle will be in the clause that follows, not with “would rather”.
I would rather Ann didn’t phone in the evening.