How to Express Choices and Preferences in English.

There is one thing that makes the English language a little different from other languages, and that is the way people express preferences. In some languages, it is acceptable to say ‘I want that one,’ but in British English, it is more polite to say ‘I’d prefer that one’.

Of course, saying ‘I’d like X, Y or Z’ in social situations is acceptable and common too.

In this blog, we’ll look at how to express preferences in English speaking countries like the UK. Why is this important? For many reasons but most importantly, the tips you’ll read below will help you sound more natural when speaking English. And you’ll learn some better ways of saying ‘I'd like that one'!

Let’s start with the easiest example.

1. General Preferences.

These are things that people prefer in most situations. For example, I prefer coffee to tea. Notice the preposition? We use this format: I prefer X to Y to express habitual likes or habits and to compare two things:

I prefer tea to coffee.

I prefer sleeping to studying.

I prefer Italian food to Chinese. (there is no need to say food twice because Chinese is a well-known type of food).

These examples show things we prefer most of the time, but what about expressing something you would prefer right now?

2. Situation-based preferences

Imagine you are offered a choice of tea or coffee at a friend’s house, and usually, you like to drink both. But right now, you would like a cup of tea more than a coffee.

- ‘Would you like a tea or coffee?’

- ‘I would prefer tea, please.’

To make this sound even more natural in an informal situation, contract I would to I’d.

I’d like/love/really enjoy a tea, please.

3. Future preferences

In English, we have a special phrase for expressing future preferences – ‘I would rather’ or ‘I’d rather’. To give you an example context, imagine you have been given the choice to cook dinner or go out to a restaurant later today. Most people would choose not to cook, right? So, this is how you could express that you want to go to a restaurant instead of cooking dinner at home.

'I’d rather go out than cook'.

Or simply ‘I’d rather go out.’ This short reply is more common because the other person already knows the two choices they offered.

We can also use this helpful phrase to talk about general preferences, the same as ‘I prefer X to Y’ that we mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

If you want to talk about general habits or preferences you could say:

I’d rather spend my holidays in Asia than Europe. (general preference)

I’d rather work out than watch TV. (habit)

I’d rather eat pizza than vegetables. (habit)

4. Expressing No Way / Never.

We’re including this example because it's a popular and funny phrase!

If you want to say that you would never do something, you can use the following phrase:

‘I’d rather (do something awful) than do that!’ This means an unpopular choice would still be better than the other option. People in the UK often use this phrase in a humorous way.

For example, your friend asks you ‘would you ever wear this?’ You could reply

‘I’d rather die than wear that!’

The Grammar Bit

Did you notice a format in the examples above? It’s quite simple, just make sure you use the base form of a verb after saying I’d rather.

I'd rather (infinitive) than (infinitive).

The same format works with phrasal verbs too - 'I'd rather go out than stay in'.

You probably thought the grammar bit was going to be more complicated than that, didn't you?

The topic of Preferences is a major feature of IQ Global’s FREE B2 taster for our course, English Voice. In this taster, you’ll also learn about greetings, different forms of communication and tag questions.

You may have seen English Voice on the website already and wondered how it works. Well, this is your chance to find out! All you need to do is sign up and then complete the sections of the taster in your own time. All quizzes are self-scoring and there’s also fun, interactive videos introducing each section.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. As always, you will progress more by reading, listening and practising your English so make sure you check out IQ Global for free resources and our YouTube channel. See you next time!

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