What is the antonym of "to prefer" that does not sound too negative? Merriam-Webster lists several antonyms for "to prefer", but all of them sound a bit too negative to me.

In a situation with many choices, I want to convey a preference towards a specific choice without putting the other choice(s) in a bad light. A long-winded way of writing this down is:

I strongly prefer X over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I am perfectly fine with Y).
X is strongly preferred over Y (but if X is unavailable, then Y is also fine).

"disprefer" closely matches what I'm looking for, but it seems not to be a "real" word, so I'm not sure whether "Y is dispreferred over X" can be used in a scientific article.

  • You are looking more for a synonym, I guess!!
    – user66974
    May 21, 2014 at 15:17
  • 2
    disprefer is a real word but not common.
    – ermanen
    May 21, 2014 at 15:20
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/95733/…
    – ermanen
    May 21, 2014 at 15:20
  • I love X but love Y in a different way...
    – Oldcat
    May 21, 2014 at 22:11
  • Why would you strongly prefer something, then say the other is just as good too? Your thought needs help. May 21, 2014 at 22:36

9 Answers 9


Preamble on the logical implication of an antonym

You are trying to confuse people's understanding of the term antonym.

Logically, speaking, the term you could have used is antithesis. However, since all the dictionaries define antithesis as exact/direct opposite, you should use the mathematically more precise term of null-hypothesis

The antonym of good = bad
The null-hypothesis of good = not good <= {bad, not bad but not good}

For the hypothesis
John = good person

then the null-hypothesis of the correlation is
John = anything but good.

In English, it is very frequent for an antonym not being the exact null-hypothesis. In fact, it is frequently true that almost all natural languages have antonyms not being the null-hypothesis. This is due to the absence of a pure binary set of possible states in such cases.

If a phenomenon Z has the possible states sorted by intensity {a, b, c, d}, then we can be sure that

antonym of a = d

But, the null-hypothesis of a = not a = {b, c, d}

What is more difficult when the states of a phenomenon is unsortable or unrankable, then any state within such a phenomenon does not have a generally acceptable antonym.

Therefore, the antonym

Therefore the antonym of the word prefer is indeed among words describing its extreme opposite

  • disapprove, disfavour, dislike.

You are asking for the null-hypothesis of prefer, and as I have anecdotally stated, the null-hypothesis of many words is not the generally accepted antonym, due to having non-binary repertoire of states. Prefer is one of those words.


disfavor (AmE) or disfavour (BrE) might fit also.

(tr) to regard or treat with disapproval or dislike


Consider the idiomatic "settle for" and "make do with."

I strongly prefer X over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I will settle for Y).
X is strongly preferred over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I'll settle for Y).

I strongly prefer X over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I will make do with Y).
X is strongly preferred over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I'll make do with Y).

settle for: to accept in spite of incomplete satisfaction.

make do with: accept something less satisfactory because there's no alternative.

  • Alternately, how about any of the following?

I strongly prefer X over Y (but if X is unavailable, then Y will perfectly fit the brief).

X is strongly preferred over Y (but if X is unavailable, then Y will perfectly fit (or serve) the purpose).

I strongly prefer X over Y (but if X is unavailable, then I will be perfectly content with Y).


Object? I prefer going by train. I object to going by car due to the air pollution.

Other synonyms of the verb object are below:


people attending the meeting objected to nearly every element of the new ordinance: protest (against), lodge a protest against, oppose, raise objections to, express disapproval of, take exception to, take issue with, take a stand against, argue against, quarrel with, condemn, draw the line at, demur at, disapprove of, mind, complain about, cavil at, quibble about; beg to differ with; informal kick up a fuss/stink about, kvetch about. ANTONYMS approve, accept.

  • Objecting to something implies that there is something wrong/imperfect about the object. I'm looking for a word that does not convey this negative interpretation.
    – Rob W
    May 21, 2014 at 15:23

I'm not sure I understand wanting to put them in a bad light but not being negative, but following the examples you have given:

X is strongly preferred, but Y is tolerated


A single word to convey your sense eludes me, but I would use phrasing like, "My first choice, by far, is X; while my second--and still quite acceptable-- choice is Y." Or, "Between two good alternatives X and Y, I much prefer X."


disinclined to Y. Disinclined implies mild disapproval or hesitation.

  • Y is second best (or third best, or whatever is appropriate for the number of Xs that are preferable to Y).
  • Y is least good (implying that it is somewhat good, rather than bad).
    • I recall reading least best once, but that's obviously ungrammatical, and I don't believe that it's an idiom, so it was either a typo or the product of a very bad writer.
  • Y is minimally acceptable or marginally acceptable.
    • It might be possible to combine one of the other answers with marginal.

In order of preference, X is a strong first if it’s still available; otherwise Y would be fine.


  • Welcome to ELU.SE! Please use the Post Your Answer button only for actual answers, as Stack Exchange is not a traditional forum but instead a Q/A platform. The question asks how to refer to Y rather than X, and in a scientific article.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 4, 2014 at 20:53
  • @AndrewLeach: Um, what? This is not a great answer, but it is an answer. What's this about a scientific article? Aug 4, 2014 at 21:38
  • @Scott Last sentence of the question. Perhaps the comment could have been adjusted a bit more.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 4, 2014 at 21:43

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