1. I had rather go home than stay out too late.

  2. I had rather listen my parents or get in trouble.

Is had rather refers to past?

Can anyone explain 2nd sentence in other words?

  • 1
    You might also be interested in looking into the somewhat related idioms: "would rather" and "had better/best". – F.E. Jul 31 '14 at 2:52
  • The one I linked has a wonderful explanation. Enjoy. – user85526 Jul 31 '14 at 2:53
  • You may find English Language Learners useful. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jul 31 '14 at 5:01

As this NGram shows...

...the form "I had rather..." is effectively "archaic". In most spoken contexts it's "I'd rather X", so you can't really tell what verb form the speaker thinks he's contracting, but these days I'm sure it's invariably would.

The usage has nothing to do with references to "the past". The now-standard conditional simply means if given a choice, X is what I would prefer/rather have.

OP's first example can thus be "fixed" simply by replacing had with would ("If given a choice, I would prefer to go home, not stay out too late").

But example #2 is just completely wrong. Depending on the intended meaning, credible rephrasings might be...

"I had better listen to my parents or I will get into trouble"
"I would rather listen to my parents than get into trouble".

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