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I got into a friendly argument with another user over whether a construction like

I would please prefer to talk tomorrow.

can be grammatical. To my eye, that just seems plain wrong. I would instead use one of

I would prefer to talk tomorrow.

or

I would prefer to talk tomorrow, please.

or

Please, I would prefer to talk tomorrow.

The I would please prefer... construct seems off to me somehow but I can't quite put my finger on why. So, why is this construct not grammatical? Is it, in fact, not grammatical or is it just me? Are there any dialects where I would please <verb> is acceptable usage and, if so, which?

  • It sounds odd to me, too. I don't think I would use it. Yet I recognize it as an English sentence. Maybe it would be fun for you to figure out what makes it "off". Surely, sometimes "please" can go before the main verb in requests. – Greg Lee Mar 5 '15 at 17:41
  • "I would please <verb>..." sounds out of order but not wrong; however, in reported speech, "Would I please <verb>" sounds completely fine to me. – tylerharms Mar 5 '15 at 17:41
  • Seems to me that it would be fine if it was I would, if you please, prefer to... but as it stands it's not something I'd say (even though it's completely understandable as it is). – Frank Mar 5 '15 at 17:52
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/231902 – tchrist Mar 5 '15 at 17:55
5

I would please prefer to talk tomorrow.

This doesn't make sense because the subject and direct object of please refer to the same person. Please is used to request one person to contribute to another person's happiness or well-being.

  • Would you please talk tomorrow?
  • Would he please meet me tomorrow?

I would prefer to talk tomorrow.

There are no problems with this, but you seem intent on getting please in there.

I would prefer to talk tomorrow, please.

I think this is how it might sound, but the punctuation is probably wrong. I'll get to that in a moment.

Please, I would prefer to talk tomorrow.

I expect this is fine. Why here and not at the end? I believe we start getting into the explanation of the idiom expressed in that one word.

It can be helpful to see how languages related to English do this. In Latin, one would say amabo te, "I will love you." In German, one would say, Bitte, which can mean "to ingratiate". In French, one would say, s'il vous plaît, which translates to "if you please". In each case, you are asking someone else to please you, to do you a favor.

Japanese (not related) tends to use either: a word that elevates the other person and ask them to hand something down to you (kudasai); or a word that expresses your wish and politely requests them to grant it (onegai). Again, another person is involved in contributing to your own happiness.

In English, one could get flowery and say, "If it please you, I would prefer to talk tomorrow." This is why the fourth example, "Please, I would prefer to talk tomorrow," could work. English also has an equivalent to elevating the other person and asking them to hand something down to you: "I pray [of] you, I would prefer to talk tomorrow." This usage is an example only as it is rather archaic (often using "thee" instead of "you").

  • How about something like, "The cashier asked me if I would please hang up my phone and pay the bill"? – tylerharms Mar 5 '15 at 18:06
  • @tylerharms Thank you for the comment. I will clarify my answer. – Paul Rowe Mar 5 '15 at 18:07
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Please is typically used with requests, not statements of preference. Compare two sentences that seem to mean pretty much the same thing:

  • I would prefer to talk tomorrow.
  • I would like to talk tomorrow, please.

Prefer and like to are both used to refer to things someone wants to do, but like to is used with requests. I would prefer to talk tomorrow is a statement of a fact. I would like to talk tomorrow is a request to talk tomorrow, so it can be accompanied by please.

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    How are they different, excepting maybe in tone, which, to my ear, comes from the "please"? – tylerharms Mar 5 '15 at 17:44
  • The difference is in their use. Consider a question like "Would you like to go to the store with me?" where the speaker is requesting that the listener go the store with them. – Nicole Mar 5 '15 at 17:45
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    If the questions is, "When would you like to talk?" Both "I would like to..." and "I would prefer to..." would serve, to my ear, the same purpose if you put "please" at the end position. Is the suggestion that "prefer to...please" isn't correct? – tylerharms Mar 5 '15 at 17:56
  • Actually, "would you like to go to the store with me?" is not requesting anything, it is asking if the person would like to do something. In our everyday, native-language world, we understand it as a request but technically, it is not a request. "Please go to the store with me." is a request. – Kristina Lopez Mar 5 '15 at 20:43

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