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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 also native "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 (Project Gutenberg; EBook #14852), New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, published 1 February 2005 (Project Gutenberg version), 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; []."
  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.
    • 1621, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford: Printed by Iohn Lichfield and Iames Short, for Henry Cripps, OCLC 216894069; The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd corrected and augmented edition, Oxford: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, 1624, 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.]
  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,[6]
      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,[7]
      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.




Derived terms[edit]