In this site

Both "prefer" & "would prefer" express the preference.

This site said "You can use 'prefer to (do)' or 'prefer -ing' to say what you prefer in general" & "We use 'would prefer' to say what somebody wants in a particular situation (not in general)".

However, this site said "We can use would prefer and prefer with the same meaning. However, the only difference is that we cannot use verb+ing after would prefer."

What is the meaning differences between:

She prefers to drink tea.


She would prefer to drink tea

So what the the meaning difference between "prefer" & "would prefer"?

  • 1
    When talking of her general tastes, we can say "She prefers to drink tea". In a particular situation when we are asked what kind of drink to prepare for her, we might say "She would prefer to drink tea" (i.e. if she were asked). This also would sound more polite. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


I thought that site explained it pretty well, but I'll rephrase it just in case:..

We use prefer to say we like one thing or activity more than another. We can use a prepositional phrase with to when we compare two things or actions:

I prefer tea to coffee.

We prefer going by ferry to flying.

We use would prefer or ’d prefer, followed by a to-infinitive or a noun, to talk about present and future preferences:

I’d prefer to go by myself.

Would you prefer a quieter restaurant?

She’d prefer not to drive at night.

So, 'I prefer' means 'I like x more than y.' The comparison can be implied to include all possible options in that category by omitting 'more than y,' as in your example:

She prefers to drink tea.

This means that, as a general guideline, she would rather drink tea than any other beverage. Context can also imply a more specific comparison:

Jim: Have you been to Coffee Unlimited? They have really great coffee.

Sue: No, I prefer tea.

Given the context of coffee, this means that she, as a general guideline, prefers tea over coffee.

We use 'would prefer' to specify a specific occasion:

She would prefer to drink tea.

This means that, in this particular instance, she would rather drink tea than a different beverage. This does not imply that she always prefers tea, just that she would prefer tea in this particular instance.

Here's an example conversation:

Tom: Let's go out to Paddy's Pub tomorrow.

Andrew: We should invite Beatrice too.

Simon: Doesn't she prefer wine? Paddy's wine selection is very overpriced.

Andrew: Yeah, but she likes chocolate stouts almost as much. She would probably prefer to get chocolate stout rather than overpay for bad wine.

As stated, Beatrice in general prefers wine, but specific to this scenario she would rather have an chocolate stout.

  • are you native?
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 16:36
  • @Tom USA, yeah. Why?
    – j4eo
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 16:47
  • I'm not entirely convinced. My mother would usually prefer tea, so I was surprised when she asked for coffee this morning. For most purposes I think it's more accurate to say that including modal would simply adds an extra layer of "distance" between the speaker and the thing being spoken of (If you wouldn't mind, I would prefer tea is more "indirect, hesitatingly polite, deferential" than I want tea!). Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 17:10
  • @FumbleFingers Your example isn't just using the modal though, it's using the subjunctive counterfactual. Also, from my experience simply "My mother prefers tea" is much more common. The phrase "If you wouldn't mind, I would prefer tea" requires the context of an offering different than tea. If the waiter/host said "Would you like some coffee?" then that would be an acceptable answer. It would not answer the question "What would you like to drink?" because there is no comparison. A more polite form of "I want tea" would be e.g. "If you wouldn't mind, I would like tea please."
    – j4eo
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 17:28
  • I'd just say forget labels like "subjunctive counterfactual". The important difference between Do you prefer X? and Would you prefer X? is no more and no less than the fact that the latter is more circumlocutory in presentation, not that there's any real-world implied difference based on whether the choice has already been made (or is "hypothetical, counterfactual" because no decision has yet been taken). Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 17:34

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