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I know that "i'd rather", like "I'd prefer" is used for specific situation and not general ones. On the other hand I know that the second sentence below doesn't work here. But the question ins that why the second sentence doesn't work here?

1 - I’d prefer coffee to tea tonight.

2 - I’d rather coffee to tea tonight.

My next question is that if "I'd rather" is in common use in AE.

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    You may infer from the relative lack of interest in I'd rather not {do something} vs I'd prefer not to {do something} as asked on ELU that's there's no generally-recognised clear-cut semantic distinction. If you want an easy life, assume they're exactly equivalent when trying to understand what someone else said/wrote. But only use prefer yourself, then you won't need to learn the slight syntactic differences that will mark you out as "non-native speaker" if you get them wrong. – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '14 at 17:39
  • As I see you mean that the nuances are too slight (perhaps difficult) to be understood; on the other point whereas based on each context they can vary in usage and a native can manipulate the sentence based on their instinct and use another one, then it doesn't worth to research to discover them. Am I right? – A-friend Oct 24 '14 at 18:30
  • For your context, I really don't think there's much of a meaningful semantic difference between the two words. And of course they don't have inherently different meanings - it's just a matter of whether a significant number of native speakers recognise some slight distinction (which, frankly, they don't). So I suggest you forget about the semantics. If you're determined to use rather in your example (I'd advise not), you should note that syntactically, the vast majority of native speakers would use than rather than to in that exact context. – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '14 at 18:46
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prefer indicates a choice of things (nouns), while rather indicates a choice of actions (verbs).
Prefer is a tr. verb and rather is an adverb.

So using your examples,

1 - I’d prefer coffee to tea tonight.

this is OK because it is used as a tr. verb.

2 - I'd rather have coffee to tea tonight.

Since rather is an adverb, a verb (both to be modified by the adverb, and just to have one in the sentence), is needed. In this case, have.

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