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Chinese Grammar: Expressing “would rather” with 宁可

Nothing better than having to choose between Slices of your two favorite cakes, right? But what happens if Yocha has made two of your least favorite cakes? What happens when you can only choose between two unpleasant options that are each bad on their own?

There's a special word for that in Mandarin Chinese. A unique word to help you reluctantly say... "Well, I’d rather do this than that other one”. In Chinese, that word is 宁可.

Basic use of 宁可

Generally, you can use 宁可 alone to express “would rather”.


Subject + 宁可 + Preferable option


面条 的话宁可什么
If we're having noodles, I’d rather not eat anything.

这里 宁可 外面
This place is too dirty, I would rather live outside.

宁可 with : Choose what you prefer

Use 宁可 followed by the less unfavorable option (i.e. the one you choose), and then tack on to designate the worst choice, the one you don’t want to choose at all. This 宁可... is the perfect structure to be extreme and show your (dis)taste in Chinese.


宁可 + option1 + + option2


I'd rather starve than eat your food.

宁可 外面 回家
I’d rather stay outside than go back home.

宁可学习 一起
I’d rather study than play with you.

宁可 with : the sacrifice

This one has an opposite meaning to the previous 宁可... pattern.

This is a pattern you'll want to use when you desire to do something and are willing to pay a certain price for it.


宁可 + the cost of your action/the price you're willing to pay + + the thing(s) that you desire to do


宁可 睡觉 完成 作业
I would be willing not to sleep to finish my homework.

宁可 上学 照顾
I would rather not go to school, in order to take care of you.

宁可 要看 电视
I would be willing to be scolded, just to watch TV.

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