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I am so disgusted. My former in-laws, whom I didn't get along with either, sent flowers. I would have preferred they keep their flowers -- but at least they didn't show up.

this is from "Dear abby". i have two questions.

Question 1.

"I would have preferred they keep their flowers"

when I saw the sentence first, I wasn't sure if it was related to something unreal or something else.

as far as I know, structures with "would have..." can also be used to talk about present and future situations which are no longer possible in addition to imaginary past actions. (From Practical english usage 3ed)

which one is associated with the sentence? an imaginary past action? ? or a present situation which is no longer possible?

Question 2.

I guess there is no problem in "I prefer they kept their flowers"
as far as I know, the tense in a clause after "prefer" or "rather" should be a past form, but it's not a past form as you can see.

what do you think about it?

I nee your advice
Comments  
Hi Ecadia, welcome to EF.
Icadia"I would have preferred they keep their flowers" We talk here about unreal situation in the past and, if you like, about situation which didn't happen, but you're saying its now and I would call it - hypothetic implications of the past actions. If you say that someone would have liked or preferred something, you mean that they wanted to do it or have it but were unable to. Anyway the situation took place in the past and of course no longer exist.

You wanted them not to have sent flowers (but they did).
when I saw the sentence first, I wasn't sure if it was related to something unreal or something else.

as far as I know, structures with "would have..." can also be used to talk about present and future situations which are no longer possible in addition to imaginary past actions. (From Practical english usage 3ed)
IcadiaI guess there is no problem in "I prefer they kept their flowers"
as far as I know, the tense in a clause after "prefer" or "rather" should be a past form, but it's not a past form as you can see.

It doesn't make sense. "kept" is not past form, is it? And as I know the patterns with "would prefer + somebody+ full-infinitive/ing form" and "would rather + sb + past participle" are used. "Rather" is an adverb itself indeed.

I would prefer they had kept their flowers. (the Past sutuation, they sent the flowers)
I would prefer they kept their flowers.(It's right thing to do in my opinion, I like it)
I prefer to go home on holidays.
I would prefer him doing nothing because he could make a mess of it.
I prefer living/to live in the country.
I'd rather they kept their flowers.
Thanks. I agree with you on Question 1, but I still have some problems.

Let's take the only sentence into consideration.

"I would have preferred (that) they keep their flowers."

Thanks to your answer, I got the point that is about unreal situation, but what I really want to know is why the present tense is used in the "that clause“ after "prefer"

A that clause can follow "prefer". dictionaries prove it.

When I first saw the sentence, I thought which tense I should use in the "that" clause if I was the writer, and decided to use the past tense.

“I would have preferred they kept their flowers”

None of my books and dictionaries explain what to use in the "that clause" after such expressions like "would have preferred"

With "would prefer", I would use the past tense in the that clause.
However, with "would have preferred", I am not sure which tense to use in the that clause.

That's my questions. thanks for reading my lengthy question.
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Icadia "I would have preferred (that) they keep their flowers."
Hi Icadia

The word "keep" is subjunctive in that sentence, and the usage sounds quite natural to me.

The present subjunctive is likely to be used with both "would prefer that" and "would have preferred that".
The past subjunctive is also used in combination with "would prefer" or "would have preferred".

My personal sense of the difference in nuance in this particular case would be this:

"I would have preferred (that) they keep their flowers." = strikes me as very determined and demanding
"I would have preferred (that) they kept their flowers." = strikes me as somewhat more tentative
thanks a lot~ you helped me. I need to look into the subjunctive.
The solution was quite simple. Thank you, Yankee. Emotion: smile
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You're welcome.

As an added note, the subjunctive tends to be used in combination with certain words and phrases. It might often be described as the imposition of one person's will or opinion on someone else.
In AmE the present subjunctive (go) can be used in any of these, for example:

1. I insist that he go.
2. I will insist that he go.
3. I would insist that he go.
4. I insisted that he go.
5. I would have insisted that he go.

Basically, in all of the above, his going reflects my will rather than his.

In numbers 1 and 2, his going is in the future (after I insist).
In number 3, "would insist" refers to a theoretical future. Thus, there is a future possibility that he will go.
In number 4, it is not completely clear whether his going is past or in the future. It's only clear that I have already insisted.
In number 5, the insisting did not happen (and thus it would usually be assumed that he did not go).