1

Are these sentences different?

"I prefer to walk."
"I'd (would) prefer to walk."

In some books I read one is used in general and the other in specific situations.

So when you say "I prefer coffee to tea" you are stating something in general, and when you say "I'd prefer coffee to tea" it is in that specific situation that you would like coffee", and maybe you will want something else in another situation.
Is it correct, or can we use prefer in specific situations, too?

2

The "would" implies a conditional and is thus, as already mentioned, more polite. E.g. the host offers you tea but you prefer coffee:

I would prefer coffee, (if that is possible/if you do not mind/if it does not trouble you)

You can of course still say "I prefer coffee" without the conditional, but it just isn't as polite. One could infact understand it as a rejection that comes very close to a "to hell with your tea, I only drink coffe".

As you noticed yourself "I prefer coffee to tea" seems very general. Nevertheless, another possibility to show the difference between both is the general expression:

I would prefer coffe over tea any time

Even thought it is not limited to the situation it has a conditional which implies that you are fine with tea if e.g. no coffee is available.

to your first example applies the same:

Shall we take a cab or walk home?

I would prefer to walk. (If it doesn't bother you, if you ask me, if my opinion counts)

These conditions are normally not phrased since it appears to be even politer not to mention them. Just one condition would reduce the effect, but naming multiple at the same time would be weird/overly polite.

Example:

"I would prefer coffee, if you got any (implies one does not care about the nuisance one might be for the other)"

"I would prefer coffee, if it isn't any trouble to you and if you have any. otherwise i am really fine with tea i am so sorry that I at all brought up my preferences."

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2

The version with "(woul)d" is more indirect and hence more polite. If you are rejecting an offer of a ride, e.g., the "'d" suggests that your rejection is due to a condition which is temporary or could not have been known to the person making the offer, and so no offense should be taken at the rejection.

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  • What about 'prefer'? Is it used in specific situations, too, or only in general preferences? I mean can you say "I prefer coffee." to mean you want coffee in that specific time? Or you can only use 'would prefer'? – Englishfreak Jan 21 '15 at 18:17
  • 1
    I think the most important aspect of this issue is the condition which is implemented. @GregLee is right when he says that this can be a condition affecting your preference in the situation you are in. Nevertheless, it can also implie a polite condition as I mentioned in the answer I tried to give. – AverageGatsby Jan 21 '15 at 19:52
  • "I prefer coffee" could be either specific or general. "I would prefer coffee" is probably specific, but you can imagine contexts in which it would be interpreted generally: "When I lived in Tunisia, mornings I would take tea, though I would prefer [or would have preferred] coffee." – Greg Lee Jan 21 '15 at 21:19

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