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The sentence you give actually indicates preference in the present. Even though it uses 'didn't', here it doesn't place things in the past. It's just a way of saying you'd prefer if someone doesn't do something. Expressing this in a past sense would be:

I'd rather/I wish you hadn't done that.

There's no real way to say the same sentence as a future thing, because the original one involves both present and future. You can say it in a different way, though, for a specifically future sense:

I hope you won't do that.

Mostly, though, we just use it in a present-future sense, like your original sentence.

@Godknows posted:

I came across this sentence; I'd rather you didn't do that yourself. I understand it indecates preference in the past. But what if I want to talk about preference in the present or future?

There's no real way to say the same sentence as a future thing, . . . .

Hello, Godknows and ForTheLoveofWords—I'd like to add one small point to FTLOW's fine answer. It is possible to use the present subjunctive in a "(that)"-clause complement of 'd rather.

While very common, this usage is not well documented in grammar texts. The present subjunctive generally has future meaning in a "(that)"-clause following 'd rather. I'm placing "that" in parentheses because it's generally left out.

  • I'd rather you not do that yourself.
  • I'd rather he come to visit some other time.
  • I'd rather the ceremony take place tomorrow.

While very common, this usage is not well documented in grammar texts. The present subjunctive generally has future meaning in a "(that)"-clause following 'd rather. I'm placing "that" in parentheses because it's generally left out.

  • I'd rather you not do that yourself.
  • I'd rather he come to visit some other time.
  • I'd rather the ceremony take place tomorrow.

That is very interesting indeed!

@Ahmed towab posted:

But in practical English usage, Swan uses the past simple to express future:

I’d rather you went home now.
Tomorrow’s difficult. I’d rather you came next weekend

Yes, that is also possible. I am simply reporting on a usage pattern that, as a native speaker, I am aware exists and is quite prevalent, whether or not grammar books have recognized it. I have seen no condemnation of the usage. Here are some examples from The Corpus of Contemporary American English:

  • "It almost sounds as if you'd rather he not go."
  • "We should tell him. I'd rather he learn about the Borg from us."
  • "There's a file on there I'd rather she not see."
  • "I'd rather it not come to that."
Last edited by David, Moderator

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