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  1. Lemon juice is preferable than tea.

  2. Lemon juice is preferable to tea.

I have seen in many grammar books that only sentence 2 is correct and not sentence1 with “than”. So my questions are:

1) We use “than” for many comparitive sentences, but why it is not used with “prefer” and “preferable”?

2). Are we comparing tea and lemon juice(which is better between those two) or Are we just saying lemon juice instead of tea?

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  • The adjective 'preferable' isn't the same kind of comparative word as 'better' or 'tastier', although it expresses a liking. – Weather Vane May 20 '20 at 16:58
  • Either the speaker, or people in general, prefer lemon juice to tea (maybe for a particular purpose). They would rather have lemon juice than tea. – Kate Bunting May 21 '20 at 8:32
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Question 1: You said it yourself, than is used for comparison. For example:

Faster than...

Taller than...

Better than...

We don't say that lemon juice is 'preferabler' than tea because the word preferable is an extreme adjective. Between two things, one is preferable and the other is not preferable. If X is preferable to Y, there is no W which is 'more preferable' to Y than X. That is why we don't use than.

Question 2: We are saying that out of the two options (lemon juice and tea), we would choose lemon juice.

Hope this helps!

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Google Books Ngram Viewer shows multiple uses of preferable to and none of preferable than.

As to why, it's because that's the way we speak. There's very little logic to the choice of prepositions in English.

The sentence means that lemon juice should be preferred to tea. That's to say, one should choose lemon juice rather than tea.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=preferable+to%2Cpreferable+than

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Your general assumption is correct, and you can use than with preferable if you make a slight change to the sentence:

Lemon juice is more preferable than tea.

However, even though that's grammatical (syntactically), it's still quite unusual, simply because it's not normally used nearly as much as preferable to.


From Merriam-Webster's definition of preferable:

: having greater value or desirability : being preferred

By the same token, compare the following sentences:

✘ Lemon juice is desirable than tea.
✔ Lemon juice is more desirable than tea.


The words preferable and desirable do not, on their own, convey an explicit sense of comparison between two things. They are adjectives that can stand on their own, and you can use either without adding any kind of direct comparison at all:

Lemon juice is preferable.
Lemon juice is desirable.


The use of the preposition to after preferable is a particular case of comparison that doesn't always work. For instance, it does not work with desirable in this case:

✘ Lemon juice is desirable to tea.

Note that this is actually an error of semantics rather than syntax, because the following would be acceptable:

✔ Lemon juice is desirable to Jane.
→ Jane desires lemon juice.


But if you add an adjective that invites comparison (such as more) to the words, then their use with than becomes normal.

Unfortunately, any of these specific examples are difficult to quantify with general rules; there are many exceptions where even though the syntax seems correct, the semantics don't allow for it in idiomatic use.

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