The standard way to use "prefer" when comparing level of preference is to say:

I prefer A to B.

I've read something about voting and have come across multiple preferences using "to" chained together. This is from Wikipedia:

This is illustrated by the following example of Condorcet's voting paradox:

  • 40 voters preferring candidate A to B to C
  • 35 voters preferring candidate B to C to A
  • 25 voters preferring candidate C to A to B

This sounds strange to me. I'm not sure why this is. In any case I have done a search on this and I get many results for:

  • "prefer a to b to c"

It seems that most results are of things that discuss math or decision-making theory, just as the part I quoted does. However I realized that these particular results are for a sentence comparing abstract terms (stand-ins or variables) "a", "b" and "c", not actual things like, I don't know, dogs and cats.

I know answering a question such as if this is normal or standard may not be possible to answer. However is there something going on here grammatically that would allow us to accept that it's grammatical based either on a general rule, or is it a simple understanding that indeed it is possible to chain your preferences in this way?

Also, can we conclude that there's actually nothing strange about this construction by way of considering other examples as analogies?

  • Scissors beats paper beats rock? (I don't think so).
  • The floor is made of tiles over ceramic over concrete (I'm not sure if this is analogous).
  • But you understood it, right?
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 16:04
  • @Robusto Yes, I'm pretty sure I get the voter example, though maybe because it involved a few numbers I had to think a bit. I guess the point you're making is that that's the important thing, that something's understood. In many cases, I think, that's the main thing that's made something become accepted as grammatical.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


In 1939, Churchill made this remark about Russia.

It is a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma inside a mystery.

So apparently he was not drawn to

It is a riddle inside an enigma inside a mystery.

But there is no objection to it. Churchill was a great orator, and followed the principle of variety of expression. The question is whether the meaning is clearly expressed (and understood).

There is not much opportunity for this kind of nesting or stringing. And the preference is a specialist use in a way. As you say, the use of letters preference theory has a clear reason for using letters as variables to express generalities in which the value of the variable is unimportant. A preference theorist has reason to want to understand how people decide on and maintain (or not) an order of preference. For example, if I prefer a to b to c it seems to follow that I must prefer b to c. But does it? Well, we should have to test it. But if I say that a is bigger than b than c, no such test is necessary: It follows logically!

Nor is there anything wrong with the chain you think are wrong.

Scissors beat paper beats rock... except that the logic does not work. If a “beats” b and beats b and b beats c, it does not follow that a beats c. On the contrary! But the meaning is clear: it is just that the sentence is incomplete. You need ... beats scissors!

  • I thought of Churchill's quote and thought I can chain "inside" or "in". Remember that movie, Inception? A dream inside a dream inside dream. Or was it another dream? Also, how does 'b' beat 'b'? Is 'b' equal to 'b'? I'm confused.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 17:29

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