I'm trying to gauge what people think is the best way to complete sentences beginning with "I would prefer" when the preference is about someone else's actions. There seems to be a few options, the meanings of which are more or less the same.

"I would prefer him to come later."

"I would prefer that he come/came later."

"I would prefer it if he came later."

Which do you think is best and are there any reasons why you would use one over the others?

I ask partly because I've noticed a few times (on internet forums and Q&A sites) that some English users express a strong disinclination towards "I would prefer him to...", which is surprising to me because that's the construction I have heard, read, and used in my own writing the most. But I've been doubting myself a lot recently when it comes to my knowledge of grammar.

  • Sometimes we use would prefer to politely mean want. I want him to come later. I want cat food. No subjunctive forms here. Sep 27, 2022 at 2:33
  • You don't mention what your relation to the addressee is (are you their boss or just a friend?) nor what your relation to "him" is (are you "his" boss, or his uncle, or what? why do your preferences matter to them?) These are all important factors in politeness. Sep 27, 2022 at 15:18
  • @JohnLawler To tell the truth, I hadn't thought about the relationships because I didn't think it would make that much of a difference. This was just an example I thought of to showcase the available constructions. Let's say it's my partner who has invited her brother round and I'm busy at the time of his arrival, so it would be better for me if he arrived later. So are some of the options more formal than others?
    – JJ_Doogal
    Sep 27, 2022 at 15:38
  • @TinfoilHat But the subjunctive mood commonly follows "prefer", does it not? Or, at least, it's an option. "I would prefer that he come later."
    – JJ_Doogal
    Oct 3, 2022 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Your sentences 1 and 3 seem to be better, because Cambridge Dictionary says: [Prefer structure][1]

When we are talking about our preferences for the actions of another person, we can use would prefer + object pronoun + to-infinitive or would prefer it if + past simple:

They’d prefer us to come later. (or They’d prefer it if we came later.)

Would you prefer me to drive? (or Would you prefer it if I drove?)

[1]: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/prefer#:~:text=When%20we%20are%20talking%20about,prefer%20it%20if%20I%20drove%3F)

  • 1
    But, yunus, Macmillan includes: << prefer that 'We prefer that our teachers have a degree in early childhood education.' >> OALD adds a caveat: << prefer that… (formal) 'I would prefer that you did not mention my name.' >> Jul 15 at 18:04
  • I asked this to a native speaker who is a native speaker and English enthusiast. This is his answer: I doubt Cambridge says those are the only ways to use "prefer" to describe preferences for the actions of another person. [ "prefer (that)" + clause ] is the structure I used, and it's fine.
    – yunus
    Jul 15 at 19:43

"I would prefer it if he came later." sounds prim (stern and polite).

"I would like it if he comes later." sounds natural (without the sternness and politeness, however it has the advantage of letting one's preference be known without ambiguity and without sounding flippant).

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