Would Rather / Would Sooner / If Only

Would rather/would sooner has a meaning similar to would prefer and can be followed by a bare infinitive or by a clause with the past subjunctive or the past perfect subjunctive. The grammar is slightly different between would rather/would sooner and would prefer.

would prefer + to + verb (or a noun, or an -ing verb)

  • I’d prefer to be rich than poor.
  • I’d prefer to have fruit juice.
  • I’d prefer fruit juice.
  • It’s such nice weather – I’d prefer to sit in the garden rather than watch TV.
  • I like running but he prefers cycling.

There is no difference in meaning between would rather and would sooner, but would rather is more common.

Exam in Mind Level B1 / B2

Would rather

We use would rather or ’d rather to talk about preferring one thing to another. 

Would rather has two different constructions. 

same subject (+ base form) + (than)

  • I’d rather stay at home than go out tonight.
  • I’d rather not go out tonight.
  • I’d rather drink tea than drink that coffee.
  • Would you rather drink tea or coffee?

After would rather we use the infinitive without to. The negative is would rather not:

different subject (+ past simple clause)

  • I’d rather you stayed at home tonight.
  • I’d rather you didn’t go out tonight.
  • Would you rather we went by bus or by train?
  • She’d rather I picked her up after lunch.
  • We’d rather she were with us now.

In negative sentences with a different subject, the negative comes on the clause that follows, not on would rather:

  • She’d rather you didn’t phone after 10 o’clock.

Same subject

When the subject is the same person in both clauses, we use would rather followed by the base form of the verb:

  • We’d rather go on Monday. (Not: We’d rather to go … or We’d rather going …)
  • More than half the people questioned would rather have a shorter summer break and more holidays at other times.
  • I’d rather not fly. I hate planes.

When we want to refer to the past we use would rather + have + -ed form (perfect infinitive without to):

  • She would rather have spent the money on a holiday. (The money wasn’t spent on a holiday.)
  • I’d rather have seen it at the cinema than on DVD. (I saw the film on DVD.)
  • I would rather not have eaten so much at the party yesterday. (I’d rather not eat so much at yesterday’s party.)
  • She would rather have gone to the cinema yesterday. (She’d better go to the movies yesterday.)

Different subjects

When the subjects of the two clauses are different, we often use the past simple to talk about the present or future, and the past perfect to talk about the past:

  • would rather they did something about it instead of just talking about it. (past simple to talk about the present or future)
  • Would you rather I wasn’t honest with you? (past simple to talk about the present or future) (Not: Would you rather I’m not honest with you? or … I won’t be honest with you?)
  • I’d rather you hadn’t rung me at work. (past perfect to talk about the past)
  • I would rather you hadn’t done that.
  • I would rather he hadn’t spent all his pocket money.

Much rather

We can use much with would rather to make the preference stronger. In speaking, we stress much:

  • I’d much rather make a phone call than send an email. 
  • She’d much rather they didn’t know about what had happened.

Short responses: I’d rather not

We often use I’d rather not as a short response to say no to a suggestion or request:

  • Do you want to go for a coffee? – I’d rather notif you don’t mind.

Would soonerwould just as soon

We use the phrases would sooner and would just as soon when we say that we prefer one thing to another thing. They mean approximately the same as would rather:

  • I don’t really want to go back to France again this year. I’d sooner go to Spain.
  • He would sooner lose everything than admit that he was wrong.
  • Thanks for the invitation, but, if you don’t mind, we’d just as soon stay at home and watch it all on TV.
  • I’d sooner not talk about it. 
  • I’d sooner he didn’t know till I’ve talked to Pete.
  • I would sooner give up sleep than miss my evening class.
  • I’d sooner not, if you don’t mind. 
  • would sooner join the nunnery than go on another date with John! His arrogance was positively repulsive!
  • Susie just has no interest in softball this year. I think she would sooner spend her afternoons at the library than on the field.
  • I would sooner he returned my camera.
  • I’d sooner you had told me the truth.

Would sooner is more common than would just as soon. However, would rather is more common than both of these phrases.

If Only

We use if only to express a strong wish that things could be different. It means the same as I wish but is stronger. We use it to talk about past, present and future unreal conditions.

We use if only to express regrets about the present that we would like to change:

  • If only he knew the truth.
  • If only I didn’t have so much homework. I could read the book.

To talk about the past:

  • If only I had known you were arriving.
  • If only I had studied harder when I was at school.
  • If only I hadn’t drunk so much.
  • If only he had listened to what his friends had been telling him. (He didn’t listen.)
  • If only Anna had been able to come. (Anna wasn’t able to come.)

To complain:

  • If only it would rain. My flowers are very dry.
  • If only she would be a better cook.

To express a hope or wish:

  • If only I had a faster car.
  • If only someone would buy the house.
  • If only they would talk to each other.

Have Practice

Task 1. Complete the sentences with the correct form of the verb in brackets.

  1. I would rather ____________ a light salad than a steak for dinner. (have)
  2. I would rather he ________________his dirty cups all over the house. (not leave)
  3. Venice was nice but I’d sooner __________________ to Paris. (go)
  4. He’s quite antisocial he’d just as soon ____________ video games all weekend than go to a bar. (play)
  5. I wanted to give the present to granny! I’d rather you _______________ for me to arrive before you gave it to her. (wait)
  6. We had dinner outside but it was too cold. I’d much rather ______________ inside the restaurant. (eat)

Task 2. Complete the sentences making transformations using the key word  (3-6 words).

Example: My brother is always stealing my chocolate out of the fridge. RATHER
I’d ___________________  my chocolate out of the fridge. – I’d rather my brother didn’t steal my chocolate out of the fridge.

  1. Why did you tell the boss I was leaving? RATHER
    I ____________________________________ the boss I was leaving.
  2. I prefer visiting museums to lying around on the beach all day. JUST
    I ____________________________ than lie around on the beach all day.
  3. The chocolates he gave me were ok but I wanted roses. RATHER
    I _____________________________  me roses instead of chocolates.
  4. The art gallery was sooo boring; I wanted to go to the casino. RATHER
    I _______________________________ to the casino instead of that boring art gallery.
  5. He would prefer to do anything instead of watching a football match. SOONER
    He ___________________________________ anything instead of watching a football match.

Task 3. Use either would rather (‘d rather) or had better (‘d better).

We use had better when we give advice to others. The meaning of had better is similar to should. Had better expresses advice and warning.

  • You had better watch your steps.
  • She had better listen to you.
  • It’s getting late. I had better go.

Contracted form of had better – I’d better, You’d better…

Notice that the contracted forms of had and would are the same and that I’d can be I had or I would so we need to look at the context to see what’s meant to be said.

  • I’d rather lie than to hurt you. (I would)
  • I’d better tell the truth. (I had better)
  1. We_______________ you didn’t hang out with Craig. He’s bad news.
  2. You_______________ take insect repellant if you’re camping near a lake.
  3. You_______________ take a bit of time to think this one over carefully.
  4. I_______________ not drink on Friday or I won’t be in a fit state for the journey.
  5. You know, I_______________ you didn’t smoke in front of the kids.
  6. A: Can I borrow your camera? – B: I_______________ you didn’t.
  7. It’s getting dark. We_______________ go back now.
  8. A: Mike, I_______________ you didn’t wear jeans in the office. – B: Craig, I’d rather you weren’t my boss!
  9. A: Can I borrow your car? – B: You_______________ not!
  10. You_______________ not breathe a word about this to David.
  11. I_______________ go to Altea than bloody Benidorm any day.
  12. They_______________ have everything ready for when our clients arrive or I’ll skin them alive.

Task 4. Choose the correct variant.

1.He would rather ______  computer games than chess.

a. play
b. plays
c. would play

2. I ‘d rather you ______  your friends about my problems.It was unkind of you to say that.

a. haven’t told
b. hadn’t told
c. had told

3. My grandparents are living in England now. If only they ______ here.

a. have been
b. be
c. were

4. It’s so cold in this room. I would rather ______ here.

a. not to stay
b. not stay
c. didn’t stay

5. I would rather ______ my grandparents yesterday than stayed at home in front of that boring movie.

a. had visited
b. visited
c. have visited

6. I’d rather you ______ in my house. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke.

a. hadn’t smoked
b. didn’t smoke
c. smoked

7. I would rather you ______ asked me before going to the pub yesterday.

a. ask
b. asked
c. had asked

8. If only I ______ the money to travel with them around the world.

a. have had
b. have
c. had

9. Can I borrow your car? – I would rather you ______.

a. not
b. hadn’t
c. didn’t

10. If only I ______ so fast, I wouldn’t have got a speeding ticket.

a. drive
b. had driven
c. hadn’t driven

11. Would you rather ______ here or go home?

a. stayed
b. stay
c. would stay

12. I would rather my children ______ something else.

a. watch
b. are watching
c. were watching

13. If only I ______ about your problems before I helped you.

a. knew
b. had known
c. hadn’t known

14. If only it would ______. The ground is as dry as a bone.

a. rains
b. rain
c. has rained

Task 5. Put the verbs in brackets into the correct form.

There is one subject before would rather:

Would rather (not) do — Present/Future reference
Would rather (not) have done — Past reference

There are two different subjects before and after would rather:

Would rather somebody did (did not do)/was (not) doing — Present/Future reference
Would rather somebody had (not) done/had (not) been doing — Past reference

Would rather + bare infinitive than + bare infinitive

  1. I would rather __________(stay) inside, it is very cold today.
  2. This employee is so obstinate, he would rather __________(die) than comply.
  3. I would rather not __________(speak) on this sensitive topic.
  4. She is very spendthrift, she would rather __________(spend) than save.
  5. I would rather you __________(be) not alone.
  6. Most teenagers would rather__________(be) out and about with their friends.
  7. I’d much rather we __________(go) out for a meal.
  8. I would rather you simply __________(tell)now the truth.
  9. I’d rather not __________(go) to the seashore this year for our holidays.
  10. The employer would rather not __________(have) to make anyone redundant.
  11. I would rather my children __________(live)in the city than on a farm in their childhood.
  12. I would rather they __________(not walk) for such a long time.
  13. She’d rather you__________(not mention) this matter to anyone else.
  14. He’d rather __________(play) video games than learn.
  15. I would rather you __________(not repeat) what my colleagues said during that debate.
  16. I would rather__________(not take)a taxi. We got stuck in the traffic jam.
  17. This year we would rather all of us __________(go) to the beach instead of the mountains.
  18. I would rather__________(not sing) at the party yesterday.
  19. I would rather __________(bite) my tongue off than cause you any pain!
  20. We would rather __________(not have)any assistance in building the porch, now we owe them money.
  21. I’m not a very good traveller; I would rather we __________(stay)at home.
  22. I would rather no one __________(order) me!
  23. I would rather __________(die) than vote for him.
  24. They would rather the legislation__________(amend).
  25. I would rather __________(not buy) this car.
  26. Most people would rather__________(work)for a private company.
  27. I would rather we __________(lay) down some very clear rules at the very beginning.
  28. I would rather that you __________(wash) all the dishes yourself than __________(see) your mum wash them for you.
  29. They would rather __________(live) homeless than return home.
  30. I would rather __________(have) ice cream for dessert instead of pie.
  31. I would rather__________(not hear)anything further said on this subject.
  32. We would rather our partners __________(inform) us before.
  33. Most of the world’s people would rather __________(live) in Europe than America.