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Which is correct: “prefer X to Y” or “prefer X over Y”?

I prefer walking to taking the bus

I prefer walking rather than taking the bus

I prefer walking but taking the bus

Wikipedia reads: "In grammar, a part of speech (also a word class, a lexical class, or a lexical category) is a linguistic category of words (or more precisely lexical items), which is generally defined by the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question."

Is taking the same part of speech in the sentences above?

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, jwpat7, Mahnax, MετάEd, FumbleFingers Aug 31 '12 at 23:24

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Your third sentence isn't valid English. The first two are equivalent, so taking is the same POS in both. Why would you think otherwise? – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '12 at 19:45
@FumbleFingers The first two are actually quite different in form, although equivalent in meaning. The second is an absolute use, easily demonstrated by rearrangement: “Rather than taking the bus, I prefer walking.” No such rearrangement is possible with the first sentence, showing that they are structurally dissimilar. – tchrist Aug 22 '12 at 20:12
With the exception of but, this has been covered before. – RegDwigнt Aug 22 '12 at 20:15
@RegDwight: With respect, OP doesn't seem to be asking whether he should use to, rather than, or over. He's asking whether taking is still the same part of speech, regardless of which "conjunction?" precedes it. I think this is a trivial question, and that it's obviously always the same POS, but I can't see how it's a duplicate. – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '12 at 21:46

Your first sentence is the normal construct. Your second sentence is an absolute sense, and is slightly different but still grammatical. Your third sentence is not grammatical to me.

In your sentence that prefers walking to taking, yes, taking and walking are both -ing forms, so are comparable.

The OED says that the normal construct is

III. 7. a. To set or hold (one thing) before others in favour or esteem; to favour or esteem more; to choose or approve rather; to like better. With simple obj., inf., or clause; above, †before, to. Now the chief sense.

Notice that before is marked with the obsolescing obelisk. They provide citations that include these:

  • 1560 Daus tr. Sleidane’s Comm. 24 ― He preferreth his owne decrees··before the Scriptures.
  • 1661 Boyle Style of Script. (1675) 165 ― He should not scruple to prefer the end to the means.
  • 1680 Morden Geog. Rect. (1685) 322 ― We may justly prefer it before the other parts of the World.
  • 1778 Hist. Eliza Warwick I. 25 ― He would prefer seeing his daughters dead at his feet, than behold them wedded to the worthiest men without titles and riches.
  • 1815 J. W. Croker in C. Papers (1884) 20 July, ― He preferred living like a Grecian, to dying like a Roman.
  • 1882 Froude in Fortn. Rev. Dec. 734 ― Warlike races prefer to be under a chief.
  • 1883 G. Moore Mod. Lover II. vi. 105 ― There was one place he preferred above all others.
  • 1895 Lieut. Maguire in United Service Mag. 378 ― Because the Chinese preferred the doctrines of Confucius to ordinary military common sense.

The absolute sense that you use in your second sentence is covered by the OED example of:

  • 1902 Edin. Rev. Apr. 512 ― He prefers rather than excludes.
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Not that I think "part of speech" is a particularly well-defined categorisation, but how does this answer OP's question about whether "taking" is the same POS in OP's first two sentences? How exactly is your "comparable" "completely different" to "equivalent" in my comment, in terms of affecting the POS designation of "taking"? – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '12 at 20:23

The first use is the normal Bitransitive construction with prefer; i.e, prefer has one volitional subject A, who is the deemer, and two objects, the first of which X is deemed preferable to the second Y, which is marked by to, and must appear after X.

  • A prefers X to Y

The second use is quite different; there are two clauses: the main one and an adverbial clause beginning with rather than. The verb in the main clause is the simple Transitive (not Bitransitive) prefer, which simply takes one object and awards it the preference.

  • A prefers X

The rather than clause that explains what Y was, since it is adverbial, can be fronted easily, while the bitransitive construction has strict word order.

The third sentence is simply ungrammatical. But is not that kind of conjunction.

The key is that different modalities of "the same" verb -- in this case bitransitive versus simple transitive prefer -- can get to the same point via different routes.

As a footnote, I would mention that the syntax and semantics of comparative and superlative constructions (like Bitransitive prefer X to Y) is considered to be one of the most complex and difficult in linguistics.

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