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What is the difference in meaning between these two sentences:

I'd rather you not talk about what happened last night in front of my mother.

I'd rather you didn't talk about what happened last night in front of my mother.

Imagine that both sentences are said at the current time of speaking, not in the past.

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  • It seems from the actual question text that you're asking about whether or not to include do-support, but most of your comments imply you're asking about Past or Present Tense. If that's the case, perhaps you should change your first example to I'd rather you don't talk about what happened last night in front of my mother. Note that don't or didn't here both refer to ongoing or future actions - if the reference was to something in the past, it would be I'd rather you hadn't talked about what happened... Sep 22, 2023 at 11:20

2 Answers 2

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Both sentence mean the exact same thing - the speaker does not want the person being spoken to to talk about what happened last night in front of their mother. There is a subtle difference in the mood of the sentence, as "I'd rather you didn't" uses the subjunctive mood to negatively refer to a hypothetical scenario where the person does tell the speaker's mother. The phrasing "I'd rather you not" uses the indicative mood to simply express the speaker's desire that their mother not be told. There is essentially no difference in the overall meaning, however - both mean "don't talk about it in front of my mother".

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  • Thank you, then why in an English course book they have written a sentence like this in the grammar section "This road is dangerous, I'd rather you didn't drive". Why they didn't write " I'd rather you not drive". Why?
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 21, 2023 at 15:47
  • Moreover, how we can tell when use "present version; I'd rather you not do, and when the past version; I'd rather you didnt do?
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 21, 2023 at 15:48
  • Can we say it's a matter of being polite like when we use "could" "would' when asking someting, can you open the door vs. could you open the door, based on this -> I'd rather you not drive, vs. I'd rather you didn't drive.
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 21, 2023 at 15:50
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    I'd rather you didn't is much more idiomatic, in my opinion. Sep 21, 2023 at 15:57
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    @Shahrooz The subjunctive mood is slightly more indirect, which could possibly be interpreted as politeness or a way of softening the statement in a minor way, but the shades of interpretation are very subtle and probably wouldn't even be considered outside of a direct linguistic comparison like this one. I don't see a strong reason to pick one over the other. If we were referring to a past action, we'd most likely say "I'd rather you hadn't". Sep 21, 2023 at 16:15
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As a Brit, I really don't like OP's first version (without "do-support"). Here's the BrE usage chart...

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...where I expect most of even that small amount of the "non-standard" instances are misclassified AmE texts anyway. It's also worth pointing out that the usage was virtually unknown even in AmE a century ago, and it's still a minority usage today...

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...so I'd advise using do-support. I don't believe it's worth postulating a possible difference in meaning anyway - even if a few Americans think there's a difference, that would probably be more than offset by confusion among others who find the usage unnatural (not just Brits, I'm sure).


Note that when the speaker is the subject, we don't normally repeat the pronoun anyway, and do-support is rarely included. On both sides of the Atlantic it's...

I'd rather not talk about it
...not...
I'd rather I didn't talk about it
...or....
I'd rather I not talk about it

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  • and who said the sentence was "I'd rather I didn't talk or I'd rather I not talk about it?
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 21, 2023 at 18:43
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    Don't be silly. We don't have a different rule for first person singular as opposed to any other pronoun (or indeed, any other subject noun) in such contexts. The important factors here are negation and do-support, not which specific subject noun is in play. Sep 22, 2023 at 10:37

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