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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English preferren, from Anglo-Norman preferer and Old French preferer, from Latin praeferō, praeferre. Displaced native Middle English foresettan and foreberan.



prefer (third-person singular simple present prefers, present participle preferring, simple past and past participle preferred)

  1. (transitive) To be in the habit of choosing something rather than something else; to favor; to like better. [from 14thc.]
    I prefer tea to coffee.
    • c. 1607, William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act III, Scene 1,[1]
      You that will be less fearful than discreet,
      That love the fundamental part of state
      More than you doubt the change on’t, that prefer
      A noble life before a long []
    • 1907, Robert William Chambers, chapter VIII, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 24962326:
      "My tastes," he said, still smiling, "incline me to the garishly sunlit side of this planet." And, to tease her and arouse her to combat: "I prefer a farandole to a nocturne; I'd rather have a painting than an etching; Mr. Whistler bores me with his monochromatic mud; I don't like dull colours, dull sounds, dull intellects; []."
    • 2019 February 26, James Graham and Adam Johnson, “The Return of the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend”, in
      You don’t attack politicians because you prefer them; you attack them because you’re scared of them.
  2. (transitive, now dated) To advance, promote (someone or something). [from 14thc.]
    • c. 1604, William Shakespeare, Othello, Act II, Scene 1,[2]
      So shall you have a shorter journey to your desires by the means I shall then have to prefer them; and the impediment most profitably removed, without the which there were no expectation of our prosperity.
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Esther 2:9,[3]
      And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; [] and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.
    • 1624, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd corrected and augmented edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, OCLC 54573970, partition II, section 3, member 2:
      Tiberius preferred many to honours in his time, because they were famous whoremasters and sturdy drinkers [].
    • 1743, Robert Drury, The Pleasant, and Surprizing Adventures of Mr. Robert Drury, during his Fifteen Years Captivity on the Island of Madagascar, London, p. 67,[4]
      [] she was one of my Master’s Captives. For this Reason, I presume, it was, that she took so much Compassion upon me; considering herself a Slave in a strange Country, and only preferr’d to my Master’s Bed by Courtesy.
  3. (transitive) To present or submit (something) to an authority (now usually in "to prefer charges"). [from 16thc.]
    • c. 1599, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1,[5]
      [] Let him go,
      And presently prefer his suit to Caesar.
    • 1803, Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons, London: Longman and Rees, Volume 1, Letter 5, p. 137,[6]
      At length the Maroons, who were delighted to have him with them, became discontented with his absence, and for several years, during the sessions of the House of Assembly, preferred repeated complaints against him.
  4. (obsolete, transitive) To put forward for acceptance; to introduce, recommend (to). [16th-19thc.]
    • 1630, John Smith, The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine Iohn Smith, London: Thomas Slater, Chapter 1, p. 2,[7]
      one Master David Hume, who making some use of his purse, gave him Letters to his friends in Scotland to preferre him to King Iames.
    • 1817, Walter Scott, Rob Roy, Volume One, Chapter 17,[8]
      Such were the arguments which my will boldly preferred to my conscience, as coin which ought to be current, and which conscience, like a grumbling shopkeeper, was contented to accept [].

Usage notes[edit]

  • The verb can be used in three different forms:
    1. prefer + noun + to (or over) + noun. Example: I prefer coffee to tea.
    2. prefer + gerund + to (or over) + gerund. Example: I prefer skiing to swimming.
    3. prefer + full infinitive + rather than + bare infinitive. Example: I prefer to eat fish rather than (eat) meat.




Related terms[edit]






  1. first-person singular present indicative/subjunctive of prefera