When we are comparing using the verb preferir, the second element of the comparison is either introduced by the preposition "a" or by "que" depending on what comes next.

Preferir a

We use "a" when what comes next is either a noun, a noun phrase or a clause introduced by que.

Look at these examples:

Prefiero el campo a la playa.I prefer the countryside to the beach.

Preferimos los restaurantes japoneses a los restaurantes italianos.We prefer Japanese restaurantes to Italian restaurants.

Prefiero mil veces los perros a los gatos.I prefer a thousand times dogs to cats.

Prefiero que me digas la cruel verdad a que me digas una mentira piadosa.I'd rather you told me the harsh truth than a white lie.

¿Prefiere que le haga la devolución en efectivo a que le de un vale por 30 euros en su próxima compra?Would you rather have a cash refund or a 30 euro credit note for your next purchase?

If we are expressing a preference between two people using their names, the first personal "a" can be dropped and we only use the second:

Prefiero (a) Pedro a Nicolás.I prefer Pedro to Nicolás.

It is incorrect to use "que" in any of the examples above to introduce the second element of the preference.

All these are incorrect:

  • Prefiero mil veces los perros que los gatos.
  • Prefiero que me digas la cruel verdad que que me digas una mentira piadosa.
  • Prefiero Pedro que Nicolás.

 

Preferir a/que

When we use infinitives in comparisons, then either "a" or "que" can be used. For example:

Prefiero ver el deporte en la tele a/que practicarlo personalmente.I prefer watching sport on TV rather than practising it myself.

Prefiero comer pescado a/que comer carne.I prefer eating fish to eating meat.

¿Prefieres estudiar en la biblioteca a/que estudiar en casa?Do you prefer studying in the library to studying at home?

 

Preferir que 

However when we have a comparison using infinitives but we omit the verb in the second element, and this is followed by a preposition, we must use "que", not "a". 

So for example, this sentence:

Prefiero irme con él a irme con ella.I'd rather go with him than go with her.

would become:

Prefiero irme con él que con ella.I'd rather go with him than with her.

Note that it's also very common to use "antes que" with this same meaning, both with the infinitive and a preposition or when the infinitive is omitted. For example: 

Prefiero irme con él antes que irme con ella.I prefer to go with him rather than with her.

Prefiero irme con él antes que con ella.I prefer to go with him rather than with her.

If we are using adverbs in the comparison, "que" is generally used. It sounds more natural than using "a":

Prefiero tarde que nunca.I prefer late than never.

Prefiero antes que después.I prefer before than after.

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Examples and resources

Prefiero mil veces los perros a los gatos.I prefer a thousand times dogs to cats.
¿Prefiere que le haga la devolución en efectivo a que le de un vale por 30 euros en su próxima compra?Would you rather have a cash refund or a 30 euro credit note for your next purchase?
Prefiero tarde que nunca.I prefer late than never.
Preferimos los restaurantes japoneses a los restaurantes italianos.We prefer Japanese restaurantes to Italian restaurants.
Prefiero que me digas la cruel verdad a que me digas una mentira piadosa.I'd rather you told me the harsh truth than a white lie.
Prefiero irme con él que con ella.I'd rather go with him than with her.
¿Prefieres estudiar en la biblioteca a/que estudiar en casa?Do you prefer studying in the library to studying at home?
Prefiero el campo a la playa.I prefer the countryside to the beach.
Prefiero irme con él antes que con ella.I prefer to go with him rather than with her.
Prefiero irme con él a irme con ella.I'd rather go with him than go with her.
Prefiero comer pescado a/que comer carne.I prefer eating fish to eating meat.
Prefiero irme con él antes que irme con ella.I prefer to go with him rather than with her.
Prefiero (a) Pedro a Nicolás.I prefer Pedro to Nicolás.
Prefiero ver el deporte en la tele a/que practicarlo personalmente.I prefer watching sport on TV rather than practising it myself.
Prefiero antes que después.I prefer before than after.
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