I prefer vs I'd prefer

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alwayschilled

New Member
Polish
Hello everyone,

I'm new to the forum so welcome all. I've been using wordreference for ages but this is my first post ever. Just some background information, I'm an English teacher in one of Polish junior high schools. Currently, I'm preparing some of my students for the first stage of the most prestigious English competition in our province. The competition has been organized for may years; therefore, I ask my students to solve past papers which are available to download from the organizer's (our local board of education unit) website. Unfortunately, no key is provided (quite shocking considering the reputation of the organizers) so it's me who has to check everything.

And I've got a hard nut to crack here or maybe it's just my lack of competence - seriously, I'm starting to doubt my skills because of such examples. Anyway, here's the example:

……………. to commute to work by train rather than be stuck in a boring job in my little town.
a) I’d prefer b) I like more c) I prefer d) I’d rather

As I mentioned before, there's no key and no further context. Some of my students chose a), others c) and I really can't tell them the difference. I'm far from questioning the competence of our local board of education but don't you think it's a bit too tricky for junior high students? Or maybe there's something wrong with my English and I need some extra lessons :) Can somebody help, please?

P.S. There is one more tricky example in the paper, but as far as I know, I have to post it as a separate thread.
 
  • Greyfriar

    Senior Member
    Fear not, I'm back with you. I think the answer is 'I prefer'. If you were to use 'I'd prefer' this takes us into the future tense. However, these examiners are being very unfair since 'I'd prefer' does also work here.
     

    cubaMania

    Senior Member
    Yes, it's a flawed question because both "I prefer" and "I'd prefer" (contraction of I would prefer) could fit in this sentence. But they are not 100% interchangeable.
    Just as on example, if you are currently stuck in a boring job in your little town and wish or hope that instead you could have a challenging job in the big city, you could say "I'd prefer to commute by train..."
    In the opposite case where you do currently commute to the city, then when asked "Why do you spend so much time commuting when you could easily get a job here in our little town?" you could answer "I prefer to commute by train..."
    In one case you have a wish or a hope and in the other case you have an existing fact or circumstance.
    We also use would for other functions, such as:
    • expressing desire, polite requests and questions, opinion or hope, wish and regret...
    https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-modal-would.htm
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I completely agree. There are two equally correct answers, each fitting a different situation. With no context, either (a) or (c) is correct, but a student who perceives that both are right should get extra points!
     

    AlabamaBoy

    Senior Member
    American English
    I have to disagree. This sounds like a hypothetical situation calling for the conditional "I'd prefer." On the other hand, "I prefer" is a definite declarative statement and I would definitely use gerunds instead of infinitives:

    I prefer commuting to work by train to being stuck in a boring job in my little town.

    I would expect that the only correct answer is a). That said, people commonly and colloquially blur the distinction between the two, but on a test, we must pick the proper English answer, not the colloquial one.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Alabama, did you read Cuba's explanation (post #3)? If the person currently takes the train to the city—we are given no context and cannot assume any—then surely the correct answer is not what you dismiss as "colloquial" but perfectly grammatical. In that case, "I'd prefer" would make no sense, since that would be what the person does already.
     

    AlabamaBoy

    Senior Member
    American English
    Hi Parla. I can only restate that with infinitives (to commute, to be) it is hypothetical or refers to an immediate special occasion. To answer in the present affirmative in general, one should use gerunds.

    Cuba said:
    In the opposite case where you do currently commute to the city, then when asked "Why do you spend so much time commuting when you could easily get a job here in our little town?" you could answer "I prefer to commute by train..."
    We know from context that this is not the case because you would have answered: "I prefer commuting to work by train to being stuck in a boring job in my little town." You might want to read this thread in its entirety, especially the part about special occasion and generality.

    Faced with this choice on a test, I would pick a) without any hesitation. And I almost guarantee I would get full marks. In everyday speech, people make little distinction, and this subtlety passes unnoticed. But a good writer knows this difference.

    Yes, you can invent a special occasion in which c) is grammatically correct, but it is very unlikely, and only serves to make a point. Given no further context, a) is ten times as likely to be the correct statement as is c). Pick a) and you will get the exercise marked as correct.

    My point is not to argue but to explain to a student of ESL why a) is the correct answer and c) is not the correct answer on an exercise. Unfortunately, most exercises in science and language are are not well constructed or don't allow for possible, but unlikely situations.
     
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    Wordnip

    Senior Member
    British English
    ... Faced with this choice on a test, I would pick a) without any hesitation. And I almost guarantee I would get full marks. In everyday speech, people make little distinction, and this subtlety passes unnoticed. But a good writer knows this difference.
    I agree that a) is the correct answer but could not articulate the reason why; you've put it succinctly although I'll have to read your explanations again.

    I would use c) thus: I prefer to commute to work by train rather than being stuck in a boring job in my little town.

    Do you agree?
     
    I agree with AlabamaBoy's analysis. To choose the 'best answer' is the task, not the futile one 'choose the one with correct grammar [where more than one have correct grammar!]'. Or, an alternate futile task: 'choose the one remaining, after you've excluded those for which no amount of contrivance can invent a situation where it would be good and appropriate usage.'

    It has not been explicitly stated, but Wordnip implies it, in his post #8, above. In the original, it's 'be', which tilts toward the hypothetical [and choice a], if only by a whisker.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Me, I'd prefer to say that the original question was flawed.

    I prefer to go and I prefer going both work for me.

    It follows that I prefer and I'd prefer are both legitimate answers to the original question.
    I concede the point. AlabamaBoy's answer is better than mine.
     

    AlabamaBoy

    Senior Member
    American English
    I prefer to go and I prefer going are both grammatically correct with slightly different meanings. The infinitive has more of a hypothetical nuance, whereas the gerund has the feel of something you choose regularly. You can invent a situation in which to use either one correctly.

    I am the first to admit that these exercises are contrived and that you can also find a situation in which the unlikely answer is correct. I also am the first to admit that almost any exercise contains flawed questions. Real life is more complicated than multiple choice. However, stuck within the limits of multiple choice questions, we have to pick the "best" answer, even if by "best" we mean it applies to more situations. I admit this because I was upset and full of righteous anger as I took tests like this all through school, especially the ACT and SAT tests. Only much later did I realize that most people do not think as literally in absolutes as I do. Most people take the most likely answer as correct intuitively without even thinking about the less likely, yet possible, choice. I had to learn to take multiple choice tests in the same way as the mainstream person does. Nearly a third of the questions on most multiple choice tests are flawed to a very literal scientist such as myself. I have had to accept that as a personal challenge. (My wife would say it is my personal failing. But on the other hand, it is what makes me a very good scientist. ;) )

    Simply saying a question is flawed does not serve the ESL student in trying to understand and pass a test. I was hoping to offer an approach that might help without making it seem impossible or to cause the student to lose respect for the testing process. The reason for trying to do this is to deal with the 1/3 of the questions that are flawed in a way that enhances the student's chances of getting the "correct" answer.
     
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    While there is some point to noting genuinely flawed questions, Alabama's basic point is a good one.

    Experts have dissected multiple choice tests for years. The test taker's immediate problem is to find the 'best choice' and many abstruse points and hypotheticals are not relevant or useful. While it's fine to say "there is no context," and argue possibilities, the test IS a context. So one applies the same rule as is taught to medical students,
    "When you hear the sound of hooves, think 'horses' not 'zebras'."

    In the case at hand, as in many others, one has embedded clues or cues. Here 'be.' Hence the hypothetical "I would prefer" makes most sense.
     
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