English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I would prefer you come in and not your friend to get the signature.

Above is the sentence in the email I received from my supervisor. I was in another city so I had no choice but to ask my friend to get the signature for me. When my friend came to see her this morning, she seemed angry and repeat the word "prefer" again.

I was just wondering that if the word 'Prefer' could have the meaning of 'necessity'? And if so, how can I tell?

share|improve this question
I'd add that it's your supervisor's fault for using "prefer" in this way. You don't always get what you prefer. You don't get litigation lawyers doing this (or if you do, don't use them). – Marcin May 13 '11 at 14:43
That's what I was thinking. I don't need the useless politeness if it will just waste our time in the end. – Jamie May 13 '11 at 16:22
up vote 8 down vote accepted

If it is a person of authority, he/she's "preference" would mean a little more than the general meaning. Any person in authority's desires naturally carry weight, and are to be obeyed. (Remember,"you slightest wish is my command." is said to a king.)

e.g. (this is by AJ01) "I suggest that you have that report on my desk Monday morning."

That's the reason your teacher was a little upset.

share|improve this answer
Good explanation. Sometimes people (especially those in positions of authority) will use "softer" language and let context or tone provide added weight. Some similar examples: "I suggest you have that report on my desk Monday morning", "Please try to make it into the office on time tomorrow." – ajk May 13 '11 at 5:21
Thanks for your explanation. I will be careful in the future. – Jamie May 13 '11 at 16:24

Sometimes "prefer" is used as a euphemism for a demand, primarily by people in a position of power. The implication is that your supervisor doesn't need to order you get the signature yourself because you respect the supervisor's preferences so much.

It's probably a safe assumption that a person who uses "prefer" this way sometimes with subordinates uses it this way all the time with subordinates. With other people in a position of authority, it depends on the specific person and the specific relationship, but when someone in a position of power states a "preference", it's always a good idea to consider the possibility that they mean something more forceful.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for your time. I will take your suggestion, always make the safe assumption that a person uses "prefer" just for politeness. – Jamie May 13 '11 at 16:26

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.