Is it ok to say "I would prefer not" or "I would prefer not to"

4

Ok, see this conversation

A: I want to drive at night

B: I would prefer not to drive at night

The above paragraph is ok, no problem

But can B just need to say:

B: "I would prefer not" or "I would prefer not to"

Does it make any sense?

Tom

Posted 2016-10-25T01:50:39.700

Reputation: 9 656

Answers

2

Of the two options you present, the second may be the more idiomatic response to the question.

A: I want to drive at night.
B: I would prefer not to.

The other option, I would prefer not, is grammatically acceptable, but it is not an idiomatic response to the question.

Here's my opinion1 about this idiomatic preference. When you respond with this:

"I would prefer not to."

... you include in your response the "to" marker of the infinitive to drive in the question. The listener or reader understands that the sentence communicated is:

"I would prefer not to (drive at night)."

Without that marker, the verb prefer has no understood object. The response I would prefer not might be idiomatic in the following conversation:

A: Do you want Sue to be driving?
B: I would prefer not.

It seems that I would prefer not, without the infinitive marker to, is preferred when the preference expressed is for an outcome rather that an action. When we are talking about an action, the form with the marker is preferred.

The response:

I would prefer not to.

...is beloved of any student of American literature, since Herman Melville uses both variants in his classic short story Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street. Throughout the story, with only a single exception, Melville uses the form with the to marker, as in:

But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, "I would prefer not to."

"Prefer not to," echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. "What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it," and I thrust it towards him.

"I would prefer not to," said he.

The single exception is:

I buttoned up my coat, balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched his shoulder, and said, "The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go."

"I would prefer not," he replied, with his back still towards me.

I have always considered this to be a typographical error, but after 163 years it has acquired the indisputability of holy writ.


1 None of my theories about idiomatic preference are supported by research, nor corroborated (as far as I know) by anyone. It's just what I think.

P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica

Posted 2016-10-25T01:50:39.700

Reputation: 9 373

1

In short, yes you can use:

I would prefer not to

But it depends on the situation you are in; i.e. if person A talks for a long time and/or about multiple subjects, you might want to clarify what you are preferring not to do.

A: Tomorrow I want to go shopping, go to the cinema and I want to drive at night.

B: I would prefer not to drive at night

In this case clarifying what you do not want to do is nessessary, but it probably wouldn't cause too much of a misunderstanding. In a real life situation the conversation might go something like:

A: Last night I went to the cinema with my girlfriend and then I had to drive home in the dark. I hate driving at night.

B: I would prefer not to

In English we normally reply with "I would prefer not to" to the last topic, i.e. in this case driving at night, but if we wanted to refer to the cinema topic we would clarify what we want to talk about.

A: Last night I went to the cinema with my girlfriend and then I had to drive home in the dark. I hate driving at night.

B: I would prefer to go bowling rather than go to the cinema on a date.

Caley

Posted 2016-10-25T01:50:39.700

Reputation: 11