Don't vs. didn't

why is it better to say
i’d rather you didn’t do…


i’d rather you don’t do

Hi Pierre

“I’d rather you didn’t…” is a standard phrase, usually used to refuse permission politely. For example:

A: Do you mind if I smoke?
B: Sorry, I’d really rather you didn’t (smoke).

You might possibly hear native speakers say “I’d rather you don’t…” and this would be used in a similar way, but in my opinion, this would be more informal, somewhat less polite and also less standard.


The most formal way of saying this is, “I’d rather you not smoke.” The verb “smoke” is in the subjunctive and is not marked for person or number, so you could also say, “I’d rather she not smoke.” As a short answer you can say, “I’d rather you not.”

Both “I’d rather you didn’t smoke,” and, “I’d rather you don’t smoke,” sound very informal to me, and the second one sounds ungrammatical to me. They sound to me like what people say when they’ve never learned to use the subjunctive correctly.

Hi Jamie

I thought about mentioning the subjunctive, too. I agree, that would sound even more formal to me. And I also think the “I’d rather you don’t” sounds ungrammatical/substandard.

Using the “I’d rather…” format, how would you reply to the question “Do you mind if I smoke?” Wouldn’t you consider “I’d rather you didn’t.” to be a standard format? I personally don’t find this to be informal but rather “standard”.

I would expect to hear the sentences “I’d rather you didn’t smoke” and “I’d rather you not smoke” (in other words with the word ‘smoke’) only if the other person had already begun smoking or was about to begin smoking without first asking if it’s OK.

Using a different example (i.e. something other than ‘smoke’ since smoking often elicits extreme reactions anyway :wink:):

If I asked “Do you mind if I open the window?” and the reply were “I’d rather you not open the window” or “I’d rather you didn’t open the window” (i.e. with the words ‘open the window’ repeated in the reply), then I wouldn’t be surprised if the person were very annoyed with me. :wink: Repeating the words ‘open the window’ in the reply would sound overly formal and therefore sarcastic.


My short answer in both cases would be, “I’d rather you not.” It’s possible to say, “I’d rather you didn’t,” but it sounds to me as if the person speaking had a lapse of grammar.

You’re right that repeating the main verb would sound harsh or sarcastic.

“I’d rather you didn’t smoke,” or, “I’d rather you didn’t open the window,” both sound non-standard to me. They would be said by people who don’t have a command of the subjunctive. The same people would also make a mistake like, “It is imperative that he arrives on time.”

Hi Jamie :smiley:

Ah, ha! I sense a subjunctive fan. :smiley:

Hmmm… people who don’t have a command of the subjunctive… Hmmmm… Far be it from me that I not live up to my subjunctive obligations (Was that pushing it too far? :wink: ).


I’ve heard that American English tends to make more use of the subjunctive than British English. I’d be interested in Alan’s opinion on that point. I believe in British English you can often find “should+verb” in places where an American would typically use the subjunctive.

Be that as it may ;), wouldn’t you agree, that the subjunctive is not terribly widely used even in American English? (That is, if we restrict the discussion to the use of the ‘bare infinitive’)? And that it can often be easily replaced by other structures? The subjuctive is found in certain fixed expressions, in expressions such as your example (“It’s vital that…” etc.), and following certain verbs (recommend, suggest, insist, etc.).

I have to admit, I’m still at a bit of a loss that you find “I’d rather you didn’t” to be ‘informal’ or ‘non-standard’ or possibly even a grammar lapse. :shock: What if the question were a little different? --> If someone said “Would you mind if I smoked?”, would you then be happier with the “I’d rather you didn’t” sentence as a response?

Could there be a regional language difference here? I mean, I grew up in the northeast, and there you are in the midwest. Are you a native “Michigander”?

Rumor has it that Michiganders don’t drink ‘soda’ but rather ‘pop’. (I myself still drink ‘soda’, even though I’ve been in Germany for quite some time now.) What about ‘grinders’ or ‘hoagies’? Are they known in the Detroit area? :smiley:

But I’m getting sidetracked. It would be best if the yankee stopped now lest she get carried away. :wink:


This is a long one. Amy’s fault. She asked me too many questions.

My volume of Swan’s Practical English Usage backs you up in the assertion that the subjunctive is more common in North America than in the UK. It says that in the UK it’s “formal and unusual”.

It’s common for New World varieties of European languages to retain older, courtly, more formal structures and expressions that have nearly died out in the source country. I believe this is also true for Spanish.

Don’t forget that, like the US, England also has masses of native English speakers who have a poor command of the standard language.

I don’t know if we’re looking at either of these phenomena, both or neither.

The subjunctive never has been one of the most widely used forms in English – even back in the Old English period. That doesn’t mean it’s not standard and shouldn’t be learned or used.

Wouldn’t you agree that the future tense with will is not terribly widely used other than when expressing certain kinds of future events, and that it can easily be replaced by other structures? Why should I teach it? An ESL student once said to me (with a straight face), “I communicate very well all day without the future tense! Why should I learn it?”

I also have American-born students who are completely unable to use the past conditional. They can’t form a sentence like, “If I had seen you, I would have given you a ride.” They replace it with a million different structures. Does that mean that structure is unusual? There are places in the northern Midwest where people don’t have any present perfect, and the students and grammar teachers have a tough time learning how and when to use it.

It still sounds to me like the speech of people (educated or uneducated) who don’t know how to form a subjunctive sentence. Sorry. It sounds low to mid colloquial to me. That’s my gut feeling.

Yes, my family came here from Germany in 1851.

I don’t know if it’s a regional difference or not. Remember that standard “General American” broadcast English is based on the dialect of my region, so you can’t exactly call it non-standard. (Otherwise Bostonian announcers wouldn’t move here for a few years in order to “learn how to talk”.)

Also, the Northeast was in more contact with England in the pre-radio centuries as the English in Britain was changing, so it’s possible that west of the mountains people didn’t pick up the loss of the subjunctive, just as the people in the Northeast picked up the British innovation of “R-dropping” and the people further west didn’t.

What do you drink, “tonic”?

Here, “soda” is drunk by snooty lit major girls who work at Borders (and say “seuda” even though they’re from here) and by transplants from the Northeast who believe they’re superior and make a conscious, angry decision never to say “pop”. (It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not.) In this part of the country, a soda is pop poured over ice cream. (A “float” is when you pour the pop first and then add the ice cream.)

If you look at a dialect map, you’ll find that pop country extends from Pennsylvania all the way to the Pacific Northwest and up into Canada. I understand it skips over the Northeast and extends to England. If you watch Little Rascals episodes from the 1930s, you’ll hear them calling it pop, so I guess it may have been an influx from the Northeast that changed things in California. This amateur dialect map is revealing:

No. We only eat squirrel and beef jerky that we get from the Indians in exchange for wampum.

What you call “grinders” and “hoagies” are known as submarine sandwiches here, or just subs.

A gyros sandwich is called a “geero” here (hard G), not a “jai-ro”. Many people here call saganaki “opa”, which is what the waiter shouts when he lights it up. And “pierogi” is both singular and plural here, even though the singular should be “pierog”. Fat Tuesday is called Paczke Day. Pita bread is often called “Syrian bread”. A knuckle sandwich is also called a knuckle sandwich in Michigan.

I thought I knew the difference between the two, but after reading your replies, I had to think again. Well, please correct me if I’m wrong. I think, if you say “I’d rather you didn’t” or “I’d rather you don’t”, you are conversing in an informal manner. If you say “I’d rather you didn’t smoke.” or “I’d rather you don’t smoke.”, you are expressing your wishes in a more formal manner.

Hi Jamie

Thanks for all the input!

Yes, I’ve read that. I remember reading something about the word “fall”. Whereas Americans typically talk about “fall” and in Britain “autumn” is used, apparently it used to be more typical to say “fall” in Britain, too. According to the article, using the word “autumn” is relatively “new” in Britain.

No, it’s impossible for me to forget that. :x

I once arranged a 4-week visit to the States for one of my one-to-one students. She stayed with friends of mine in upstate New York. (Everything in New York State that isn’t New York City or Long Island is considered “upstate”.) Anyway, when she returned, she informed me that I had taught her how to do IF-sentences the wrong way! :shock: I’d once given her the little rhyme “IF and will make me ill, IF and would aren’t good” to help her remember that she normally shouldn’t put ‘will’ or ‘would’ in the IF-clause. On her return she informed me that “everybody” puts those words in the IF half of the sentence “all the time”. After some Q+A, we finally established that what she’d actually (mainly) noticed was people using ‘would’ in both halves of “Type 3” IF-sentences, resulting in sentences such as “If I would’ve seen you, I would’ve given you a ride.” Similar to what you mentioned.

Well, I’d agree with you there (that ‘will’ is not terribly widely used other than when expressing certain kinds of future events). Should I teach ‘will’ with meanings such as ‘willingness’ or as in ‘last will and testament’? (Is that what you meant?) Sure. But using ‘will’ properly in ‘future sentences’ would take priority.

I was surprised enough by your reaction to “I’d rather you didn’t” vs. “I’d rather you not” that I decided to run it by a couple of native speakers - simply to get a couple quick reactions. Among the native speakers were a few ‘non-teacher’ friends in the States (all in the northeast) and a British English teacher here. Not surprisingly, my friends in the States reacted to both sentences about the same as I would — i.e. both are possible, they’re similar, but “I’d rather you didn’t” would be slightly more commonly used. My British colleague, on the other hand, immediately informed me that “I’d rather you not” is not possible at all ! (And she is a very experienced and capable English teacher.) So, there seems to be a BE vs AE element here.

My family on my mother’s side immigrated from Germany too! But about 25 years later. (My father’s side is the “real” yankee side. They claim to be of “Mayflower origin”.)

The Connecticut accent isn’t nearly as “extreme” as a Boston accent. The first time I met a Bostonian, I had to ask her to repeat what it was that she needed to ‘pack’. It turned out she simply wanted to ‘park her car’. :smiley:

As to subjunctive usage in the northeast, I would say it’s definitely alive and well, but also more likely to be used by “educated” people and is often (but not only!) relatively formal. But I’m (finally ;)) beginning to believe it’s even more frequently used in the midwest.

Hmmmm… now what in the world brought a knuckle sandwich to mind? :lol: :wink: :lol:


Hi you two,

As we say in little old Britain- come off it. You are indulging in a very extended spat. Our friend Pierre simply asked:

I have presumed that the do is a substitute for any verb you like to choose and the questioner wants to know whether it’s don’t or didn’t. Surely we’re talking informal here and not formal. You quote Swan talking about the subjunctive being unusual in British English. Well, I think that’s a sweeping generalisation, Mr Swan. You two are however hooked on this formality and informality aspect.

How’s this for formal?

A Excuse me ,sir. I have a preference in mind to participate in a smoking activity and I am most anxious to ascertain whether you are in favour of this or not as such a pursuit might have a detrimental effect on your well being.

B Dear sir I do most genuinely appreciate your concern about the effect any such putative smoking activity might have upon my health and I am obliged to convey to you my feelings on the matter. In response in all humility I have to declare a genuine objection to any such activity and trust you may be willing to comply with my wish.


A Do you mind if I smoke?

B Sure. Go ahead or
I do, actually

But to answer our friend I’d rather you didn’t is a little less abrasive than I’d rather you don’t.

Hi Alan

Spat? What spat? I was enjoying the input and exchange.

But, if you’d rather we not … :smiley:


Your formality examples were terrific!

Thanks guys,
I liked the show.
You could see the formal version just now
here comes the informal:
“I’m the smart!”
“No, you are stupid, I’m the smart!”
“No, I’m much smarter than you 'cause you not smart at all!”
“STOP IT,and get in your rooms,RIGHT NOW!