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I know there's a thread on this already but I can't find the answer there, I'd appreciate any insight!

It's a tricky one. "I prefer to travel by train to by car" Is it right? The "...to by..." feels wrong. Is there maybe an implied infinitive or something else before the second choice, implied in by the use of "by", so that "I prefer to travel by train than by car" is actually right because one is sensing "I prefer to travel by train than (to travel) by car" or "I prefer to travel by train (rather/more) than by car"?

The "prefer....than..." form feels best to me, but is the real answer that we have to dump the "by" altogether and say "I prefer to travel by train to car?" so that we can use the "prefer....to...." form for nouns, as the rule tells us to? But that doesn't sound quite right? Is the whole sentence just barking up the wrong tree or trees!

Which is it? What does anyone think? Thanks for your help, because I need to decide whether the first version - "I prefer to travel by train to by car" - is right or wrong. It seems wrong to me, but I can't say exactly why!

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It's "I prefer [something] to [something else]" but you need to use a lot of caution. If you use "prefer ... to," you should stick to single word entities, as in "I prefer coffee to tea, and tea to juice."

If you need to describe your preferences where more complex things are concerned, you'd be better off using the expression "favor [...] over," as in "I normally favor public transit over driving."

A healthy alternative would be "I'd rather take the train than drive" and "I'll take a lanky girl over a dumpy one any day."

  • I prefer your answer to other answers doesn't sound right. does it? – user140086 Dec 2 '15 at 6:45
  • @Rathony: "I prefer your answer to those of the others'" would be better. My personal preference would be, "Your answer is brilliant as usual; the pathetic attempts made by the others are mediocre at best." – Ricky Dec 2 '15 at 6:48
  • Thanks very much guys. Any views on the sentence I quoted, because I have to MARK it! Is it wrong or right, and if its wrong, how do I fix it in the fewest words. The way marking works here in Japan, its minus marks for mistakes, so I have to correct it in as few words as possible! – Matthew Seligman Dec 2 '15 at 6:58
  • @MatthewSeligman: Some are wrong, and others are just awkward. I thought I explained how to fix them in my answer. – Ricky Dec 2 '15 at 7:00
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According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, both "prefer ... to ..." and "prefer ... rather than ..." are valid constructs, but not the bare "prefer ... than ...".

Examples from the link:

We prefer going by ferry to flying.
A lot of young people prefer computer games rather than football.

There's more to it than just thoughtlessly applying one form or the other, though (not that you are).

To use variants of your example, "I prefer train travel to car travel" sounds fine, but "I prefer to travel by train to by car" doesn't. However, using travelling twice makes it alright again: "I prefer travelling by train to travelling by car." The form you asked about, "I prefer to travel by train to car" doesn't sound right.

If you have two nouns or noun phrases, the "prefer ... to ..." form works well and functions as a simple comparison of the two things.

The form "prefer ... rather than ..." seems to have a more emphatic flavour, perhaps stemming from rather than having the meaning of "instead of". Although the Cambridge Dictionaries Online reference rejects the bare "prefer ... than ..." form, it sometimes works - perhaps as an elided form of "prefer ... rather than ...". E.g. "prefer to ski than to swim".

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"I prefer to travel by train to by car"

This is wrong, so that is settled, because the "to by" is ungrammatical. There are a number of options to fix it:

  • I prefer to travel by train (rather) than (by) car.
  • I prefer train travel to car (travel).
  • I prefer travelling by train to travelling by car.
  • I prefer trains to cars when I travel.

In AusE, the form I prefer to travel by train than car would not be used often, as we do not use "than" with "different" either, such as in Train travel is different than car travel.

But in general prefer ... to ... for nouns and gerunds, and prefer ... than ... for infinitives.

  • Brilliant guys, all of you, thanks soooo much! I have all I need :) – Matthew Seligman Dec 2 '15 at 7:14

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