How to use the verb prefer correctly

A lot of students use the word ‘prefer’ in their essays. Unfortunately, very few of them actually manage to use it correctly. We use a variety of words and structures to show preference. Students often mix them incorrectly.

In this lesson, I will explain the correct usage of prefer.

Note that prefer is a transitive verb. That means it must be followed by an object. The object of a verb can be a noun, an –ing form (gerund) or a to-infinitive.

Study the examples given below.

  • I prefer biographies. (Here the object (biographies) is a noun.)
  • I prefer reading. (Here the object (reading) is an –ing form.)
  • I prefer to read. (Here the object (to read) is a to-infinitive.)

As you can see, ‘prefer’ can be followed by three types of words – nouns, -ing forms and to-infinitives.

You can prefer A to B or you can prefer A instead of B. Note that if you prefer ice-creams to chocolates, you like ice-creams more.

Study the examples:

  • I prefer bikes to cars.
  • I prefer reading to writing.
  • I prefer walking instead of driving.
  • I prefer to walk rather than drive.

Do not mix infinitives and –ing forms.

  • Correct: I prefer walking to riding.
  • Incorrect: I prefer walking to ride.

Here are possible structures with prefer

Subject + prefer + ing form + to + ing form

  • I prefer reading biographies to watching films. (NOT I prefer reading biographies to watch films)

The word ‘to’ is a preposition. After a preposition, you cannot use an infinitive. Note that the infinitive also takes the marker ‘to’ but that ‘to’ is different from the preposition ‘to’.

Subject + prefer + ing form + rather than + ing form.

  • I prefer reading biographies rather than watching films.
  • I prefer playing with my children rather than partying with my friends.

Subject + prefer + to-infinitive + rather than + infinitive without to

  • I prefer to read biographies rather than watch films.
  • I prefer to bake my cakes myself rather than buy them from the bakery.
  • I prefer to play with my kids rather than party with my friends.

Subject + prefer + ing form + instead of + ing form

Note that you cannot use an infinitive after ‘instead of’.

  • I prefer reading biographies instead of watching films.
  • I prefer playing with my kids instead of partying with my friends.

Note that instead of ‘prefer’, you can write ‘would prefer’. The sentence patterns are the same. ‘Would prefer’ is used to talk about imaginary situations.


  • I prefer to live in the hills rather than live near the sea. (Real and possible)
  • I would prefer to live in the hills rather than live near the sea. (Imaginary situation – maybe a wish)
  • I prefer to spend time with my children rather than go to the club.
  • I prefer spending time with my children rather than going to the club.

Instead of prefer, you can use ‘would rather’.

Sentence pattern: Subject + would rather + infinitive without to + than + infinitive without to.

  • I would rather read biographies than watch films.
  • I would rather play with my kids than party with my friends.

Note that –ing forms are not possible in this structure.

Related posts:

  1. Correct usage of the verb suggest
  2. Suggest to or suggest that
  3. Sentence patterns with subject complements
  4. Verbs complementation: what can follow a verb?
  5. Passive verb forms
  6. How to use tenses correctly in your IELTS essays and letters?
  7. Rather than and would rather
  8. Active and passive voice
  9. IELTS Essay: While some people like to a live sporting event, others prefer to watch it on television
  10. How to use the simple past and the present perfect tenses correctly

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I'm Manjusha. This is my blog where I give IELTS preparation tips.

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