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Dear teachers,

1) If "would rather" is used with a single pronoun, is the form of the verb that follows it a bare infinitive or a present subjunctive ?

e.g. He would rather BE alone.

2) If "would rather" is used with 2 pronouns, should the form of the verb that follows it be in the present subjunctive or the past subjunctive ?

e.g. I'd rather you LEAVE / LEFT now.
She'd rather they STAY / STAYED.
We'd rather they LIVE / LIVED close by.
What would you rather I DO / DID ?

Thanks a lot,
Hela
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Comments  
Hela1) If "would rather" is used with a single pronoun, is the form of the verb that follows it a bare infinitive or a present subjunctive ? e.g. He would rather BE alone.
The constructs like "would rather", "had rather/better", would/had sooner" have their origin in the Old English's dative construction using a subjunctive past: "Him waere better that he naefre geboren naere" (=He would rather not have been born). So, historically speaking, "be" in "He would rather be alone" might bare a sense of subjunctive present. However, as the form of "subjunctive present" is identical to the form of bare infinitive for all the verbs in current English, I think, we don’t need to know whether it is a subjunctive or a bare infinitive.

When we talk our preference about present/future events, we use "would rather do", and when talking our regret about not-done past events, we use "would rather have done".
(EX) I would rather go out (than stay home) this afternoon.
(EX) I would rather have gone out yesterday, but I had to stay home to take care of my little sister.
This usage of "would rather bare infinitive" is a little different from the usage of "would rather + that clause in subjunctive mood" below described.
Hela2) If "would rather" is used with 2 pronouns, should the form of the verb that follows it be in the present subjunctive or the past subjunctive ?
I'd rather you LEAVE / LEFT now.
She'd rather they STAY / STAYED.
We'd rather they LIVE / LIVED close by.
What would you rather I DO / DID ?
In this case the second verb bares the subjunctive mood. So when you talk about the first subject's preference for present/future events, you have to say "S1 would rather (that) S2 did", and when you talk about the first subject's regret to not-done events, you have to say "S1 would rather (that) S2 had done".
I'd rather (that) you LEFT now.
She'd rather (that) they STAYED one more night.
We'd rather (that) they LIVED close by.
What (that) would you rather I DID ?

She'd rather (that) her husband HAD STAYED home yesterday.

paco
Hello Hela,

When "rather" is used in different contexts, it's behaves differently. It’s “rather difficult to lay down a set of rule as to how to use them properly. Perhaps the experts can shed some light on it. Nonetheless, I’ll give you a few examples; maybe from which you can get a sense of what looks and sounds right, or wrong for that matter.

I would rather be on the beach than getting stuck in the office.

She is rather slim but she still thinks that she is overweighed

She went with her own decision to quit her job rather than listening to her friends advice.

I would rather do the work myself because I wanted it done right

The only way to imrpove your knowledge with usage is to increase your exposure to English more often; in fact, as much as you can.

Goodman
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1) bare infinitive
2) past subjunctive, but many speakers choose present subjunctive

CJ
Thank you all very much!

CJ, I'd like to know why some people would use the present subjunctive instead of the past. And is the present subjunctive used only in spoken language and not in writing or is it standard English too?

How would you analyse the 2 pronouns in a sentence like:

I would rather you stayed home.

All the best,

Hela
Whether we are writing an essay or a story, we want to be able to depict the characters, scenes, setting and events as clearly as possible. In doing so, past and past perfect tense are often used to described past events. Different writers has different styles. Given a topic in a class of 20 students, we most likely will have 20 different versions of the same story. How one would choose to tell the story depends on his depth of English knowledge. In written English, we tend to use a more formal tone and style whereas in dailog the language and grammar rules are more casual.
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Hela,

I can't speak for other people! I don't know why they would use present (subj) instead of past! Maybe the idiom itself should be considered as only weakly governing the following verb, similar to "if". Recall that "would rather" has a sort of double identity: It is an idiom for "prefer" (with a present tense meaning), and it contains "would", which gives it the flavor of "would prefer".
On the one hand, we have "I prefer that he stay"; on the other hand, we have "I would prefer it if he stayed".

The analogy with "if" is not completely parallel, but you may find some explanatory power in it:

If I stay, I will fall asleep.
If I stayed, I would fall asleep.


If not, ignore the examples with "if"!

CJ
I see what you mean Jim. And so you would also use the subjunctive after "prefer" in such a construction : "I prefer THAT he STAY"

Is "rather" an adverb in cases 1 and 2 ?

1) I'd rather be alone = I would be alone, preferably. (?)

2) I'd rather you stayed here = (adverb ?) = I would prefer you would stay here. (correct ?)

Many thanks,

Hela
Hela,
Yes. The constuction is "... prefer(s) that he stay".
My dictionary lists "rather" as only an adverb, no other part of speech.
Nevertheless, it does no harm to understanding, and may actually help, if you consider 'd rather as an idiom acting as a verb.
Analyzing it strictly as an adverb, as you have done in your two examples, does not seem to me to help much. The connection I was trying to make earlier is this:

'd rather as prefer (that)
1a) I'd rather be alone. I prefer to be alone.
1b) I'd rather you be here early. I prefer that you be here early.

'd rather as would prefer it if
2) I'd rather he waited in the hall. I would prefer it if he waited in the hall.

The second shows a relationship to what is called the 'second conditional' stucture: If past*, (then) ... would ... (If he waited in the hall, I would be happy.)

*called 'past subjunctive' in this context by some authors

CJ
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