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a.— I'd sooner we travelled by plane.
b.— I'd rather we travelled by plane.
c.— I'd prefer we travelled by plane.

Is there any difference between the following constructions?
I've seen that I'd sonner and I'd rather slightly mean the same, but I'm not sure if the above three convey the same meaning.

  • Soon/Sooner/Soonest is more common in the South/Southeastern US. It has various meanings beyond Rather/Prefer "but I'd just as soon stay out of it." – lurker Dec 22 '15 at 4:18
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Yes. There are differences. First of all, the first one is incorrect.

"I'd sooner we travelled by plane" doesn't really mean anything. My guess is that you got something confused with this construction:

I'd sooner eat a bowl of nails than eat another bowl of your mother's soup.

This is a way of saying (very strongly) that you won't do something. So you choose something that is something that you obviously won't do because it is so extreme (eat a bowl of nails) and say that you'd sooner do that than whatever it is you're trying to say that you don't want to do.

The other two are very similar in most cases, but not in all.

b.— I'd rather we travelled by plane. c.— I'd prefer we travelled by plane.

The place where they differ is in this case:

Person A: How would you like to travel?

The answer to this question can't be "I'd rather we travelled by plane." You'd have to use the other option

Person B: I'd prefer we travelled by plane.

If you're using rather, you're replying to a suggestion...

Person A: How about we travel by boat?
Person B: I'd rather we travelled by plane.

However, in this case, you could also use "I'd prefer."

  • Great. I knew that I'd prefer/rather were different, but I wasn't sure about I'd sonner. – Alejandro Dec 22 '15 at 13:08
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a is very regional, though I'm not clear which regions, and also was more commonly used about fifty years ago. It is used in expressing a preference between options you don't like, or at least one option you dislike. The variation that Alex has in his answer is much more common today. Here's an example of this usage:

  • Could you arrange for a taxi to pick up Charlie at the airport tomorrow? You'll have to cover the fare, he's fallen on a hard time.
  • I'd sooner pick him up myself. When does he get in?

Rather and sooner are both used as replies to alternatives, as Alex suggested above, even if those alternatives are proposed later in the same sentence. Prefer can be used in response to a question where no alternative has been suggested.
Oh, your a is incorrect, though. Sooner can only be used if the person expressing a preference is the one performing the preferred action. Like above, "I'd sooner pick him up myself." I don't believe it can be used to express an action another subject does, like in your example.

  • Good catch - I forgot about this usage. It isn't the way I'd talk, but I've certainly heard it in older movies and seen it in older writing – Alex K Dec 22 '15 at 17:09
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All three examples mean the same, at least in British English, where sooner is in common usage. However, number 3 is incorrect grammar usage - prefer is followed by the full infinitive: " I prefer to travel by plane". Also in the second answer, you do not fall on a hard time, but on hard times. To fall on hard times is a fixed expression and should not be changed.

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