The “would prefer” construction is a bit tricky. Used to state that one prefers one thing over the other, it has two patterns, and that’s actually what makes it intriguing to deal with.
There is one in which you can use the simple present tense “normal” to express present or future action. There is the other in which you have to go for the simple past even when the intended action has not yet taken place. Does the latter remind you of the construction “It’s high time you went out”?
Here are some examples:
- I’d rather stay here than leave.
- She would rather take the money to the bank than keep it in place.
- We prefer to continue the elections rather than suspend them.
Compare them to:
- I would prefer the owner to call a meeting tomorrow.
- Akeredolu would prefer the opposition to join him in running the state.
- I would prefer Buhari to go home immediately to settle the Kyari case.
Use the present tense
When the subject of the clause “would prefer” and the subject of the clause that follows it are the same, the verb remains in the present simple / present tense. This is the case with the first three examples above. Take a look at it again. In the first, it is the “I” who still wants to stay. In the second, “She” is still the person who wants to bring the money to the bank.
Accordingly, the present simple present, “keep”, is used. So when the subject of the clause is constant, we stick to the “normal” rule of concord.
Consider them too:
John would rather go tomorrow. (John is always the one to leave.)
She prefers to study nursing than to study economics. (She’s still the person who wants to study nursing.)
The second variant of the “would prefer” construct is one that many say is a bit complicated. However, this is not really the case once you understand the rule. The rule is that when the subjects of the two clauses are different, the verb must switch to the simple past (which is the past tense). The last three examples of the first six above interpret this rule. One of them is “I would prefer the owner to call a meeting”. In the clause, we have two subjects: “me” and “the owner”. Therefore, “called”, instead of “call”, is used. I would like this to be a physical class where you could give me your own examples!
Here are others, anyway:
- John would prefer his mother to visit him regularly at school.
- The governor would prefer his wife to hold a meeting with the market leaders.
In each of the examples, we have two clauses and two subjects. In the first, the subjects are John and his mother while the governor and his wife are separately the subjects of the second sentence. In such a situation, which also refers to a present or future action, the verb of the second clause must be in the past simple:
I would prefer you to listen carefully to my explanation of the preference clause.
In this example, again, there are two subjects (me and you). So ‘to listen’ is the correct verb, despite the fact that this is when I want you to carefully study what I am teaching you.
Prefer and past events
What looks like the third scenario is when the second clause expresses a past action. Neither the present nor the future. In this case, choose a past tense:
She would prefer that the officials test our players before they leave for the Tokyo Olympics.
I wish Buhari hadn’t traveled before the Kyari case arose.
In both cases, action was taken. The players went to Tokyo while Buhari traveled out of the country. Therefore, the past perfect (“had tested” and “had not traveled”) are used.
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