Would sooner


Hi everyone!!:)
I need to know the usage of (would sooner), does it mean (want or would rather)??
I've seen tons of movies and I read lot in English!! and I can't recall coming across this expression!! Is it commonly used??!!:confused:
Thanks in advance!!
  • Miss Julie

    Senior Member
    It's a sarcastic way of saying "would rather." For example:

    "I would sooner go blind than watch that movie again."

    Obviously, you don't want to go blind. But, in your opinion, the movie was so bad that going blind seems preferable in comparison.
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    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't feel that "would sooner" is particularly sarcastic.
    It is simply an alternative way of saying "would rather".
    Have a look at this thread:

    would you sooner be on your own

    I would sooner ...
    ... "More readily as a matter of choice; preferably, rather."
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    Senior Member
    Hi everyone :)

    As I probably have said a number of times, I'm going to study English at Uni starting this October. Today, I downloaded the exam I'll have to take at the end of my second year, to see how difficult it might be. It didn't prove to be very difficult, but there were a few sentences that sounded awkward to me. One of them have read:
    His wife would sooner he hadn't reacted so violently.

    Is the sentence in question perfectly fine? I have a hard time imagining a native speaker of English would write such a sentece, let alone say it. I find the "would sooner" construction out of place here.
    What do you make of it?

    source: the answer key to the exam, please note that it's a direct link to .rtf file


    Senior Member
    British English
    There is a 'would sooner' thread which points out that it is an alternative to 'would rather'. However, the combination of 'would sooner' and 'hadn't' does not sound quite right to me - something to do with the tense I think. 'I would rather you hadn't' sounds OK. Google agrees with both of us.
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    Senior Member
    Thank you, Szkot. That makes two of us. I'd go so far as to say it sounds terrible and even if it's not a mistake, I'd be inclined to consider it as such.


    Senior Member
    As far as I know, would sooner (meaning "would prefer") is used only when there are two things to be contrasted: I'd sooner die than eat sweet potatoes ever again. That's the only way I use it, anyway. The two things don't have to both be explicitly stated, but they need to be obvious, e.g. "I'd sooner he didn't" means "I rather he didn't (than that he does)." So it just doesn't work here at all, in my opinion.

    There is an idiom just as soon, which means "prefer" or "rather," and that kind of fits. But not very well - you use that expression when you have a fairly mild preference, and surely his wife feels more strongly about a violent reaction than that.


    Senior Member
    I wouldn't. In fact "would rather/sooner he hadn't" sounds far less unusual to me than "had rather/sooner he hadn't".

    I've just googled it, and there are only two occurences of "would sooner he hadn't" (one of them being the sentence in question), and not a single one as far as Google's ngram goes.

    I'd sooner die than eat sweet potatoes ever again. That's the only way I use it, anyway. [...] So it just doesn't work here at all, in my opinion.
    That's the only way of using it that sounds reasonable to me, and that's how I would use it, too. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in thinking that it's totally inappropriate.

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks, Szkot. In the present tense, some BrE speakers use "would sooner" where others would use "would rather", as you say at post 2): "I'd [I would] sooner you didn't scrape your knife on the side of your plate". I'm assuming that these speakers stick with "sooner" in the past: "I'd sooner you hadn't ..." - but I may be wrong.
    "Would sooner" as an alternative to "would rather": http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=780815

    In addition, AmE and BrE often differ on this type of thing.
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    Senior Member
    Thank you, Sound Shift. I know it's an alternative to "would rather", but it's just that language, any language, is largely based on conventions. So when I see only two occurences of "would sooner he hadn't" then I have ample reason to believe that something's wrong. Doesn't it sound awkward to you, the sentence in question? I wonder what others make of that.

    I didn't find the answer key terribly useful, DL, as I didn't know what the question was:rolleyes:
    Ooops, I failed to mention that there was a source sentence His wife would prefer him not to have reacted so violently, and a student had to come up with the sentence under discussion, being given the beggining of the sentece "His wife would sooner..."


    Senior Member
    "His wife would sooner he hadn't ..." sounds off to me too. Sooner has a touch of a "before" meaning where "rather" is more like "instead of".

    I would sooner go blind than watch that movie again.
    = "I would choose to go blind before I would choose to watch that movie again."

    As I see it, both rather and sooner may represent a preference for one thing over another, but sooner works best for the lesser of two evils, and is often used sarcastically, and rather allows one thing to be compared to an indefinite, or even infinite, set of alternatives.


    Senior Member
    I have the same impression, Forero.

    I also think that the "would sooner" construction is best employed to juxtapose the thing one would never dream of doing, with another thing, the lesser of two evils, as you so aptly put it (which is always somewhat overstated). This makes perfect sense to me (I made it up):
    (1) I'd sooner die than share a room with you. -> I don't relish the idea of sharing a room with you - I'd rather die than do so. (actually, I wouldn't, but this shows that sharing a room with you is the last thing I'd like to do)

    I'd never use it in reference to some past action I didn't like, as it's the case with the sentence in question. But since it's perfectly fine to British English speakers, I'll perceive it as another AmE-BrE difference, only this time it's the American Engish that seems more logical to me.