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a. I'd rather you stayed here.

b. I'd rather you stay here.

c. I'd rather you should stay here.

Is there any difference in the meanings of these sentences?

I think (c) is old-fashioned, but I think they all mean the same.

3 Answers 3

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[1] I'd rather [you stayed here].

[2] I'd rather [you stay here].

"Would rather" is an idiom, meaning 'would prefer'.

Both forms are possible. They exhibit a modal contrast between preterite and present tense.

In both examples the situation expressed in the subordinate clause (bracketed) is the same, present or future depending on context. The difference is a matter of modality, of how the subordinate clause is presented with respect to factuality, likelihood, and so on.

We refer to clauses like [1] as modal preterite clauses because the meaning has to do with modality, not time.

The interpretation of modal preterites depends on the matrix construction containing them. The subordinate clause in [1] expresses a preference, not an expectation, demand or the like.

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No one seems to have addressed your 3rd option:

I'd rather you should stay here.

This is not standard English, but you may hear such constructions. From a quick web search, this kind of phrasing e.g., "you want I should go?", is associated with Yiddish speakers. It will be understood but it will sound odd to most English speakers.

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    I'm not an expert in British usage, but I do know that people in the UK frequently use "should" in a subset of cases where Americans use "would". And, in US English, "I'd rather you would stay here" is perfectly fine. So "I'd rather you should stay here" might be fine in British English. Perhaps a native speaker can weigh in. Nov 3, 2023 at 22:02
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    @MarkFoskey Both sound wrong to me. One or both might sound fine in some parts of the UK (I'm not sure), but neither is 'standard' British English. In contrast, both the other options sound OK, though I'd say they make slightly different points.
    – cfr
    Nov 4, 2023 at 1:13
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    @MarkFoskey I'm from Canada; the version with should sounds grammatical to me, but your version with would does not. Nov 4, 2023 at 2:38
  • @Spitemaster Interesting. "You should stay" or "I would rather you stay" would be normal to my ear but "rather you should" sounds almost nonsensical to me. "Rather you would" seems OK but a little old-fashioned as the OP says.
    – JimmyJames
    Nov 6, 2023 at 14:40
  • @JimmyJames I think it's how I parse it: "I'd rather you would stay" sounds like a archaic version of the question "Would I rather you stay?" - but there's clearly a meaning change, so it's ungrammatical. "I'd rather you should stay" sounds like a version of "I should rather you stay" - itself archaic, but with the same meaning. Nov 6, 2023 at 20:11
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Cambridge Dictionary explains the use of would rather.

When the subjects of the two clauses are different, we often use the past simple to talk about the present or future, and the past perfect to talk about the past: I would rather they did something about it instead of just talking about it. (past simple to talk about the present or future) [emphasis added]

Hence, we should use (a).

a. I'd rather you stayed here.

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