"I prefer cats to dogs."
Translation:Je préfère les chats aux chiens.
Thank God, no! It is the construction of the verb "préférer" with preposition "à": préférer quelque chose à autre chose.
The preposition "à" may change according to the form and gender of the thing preferred:
je préfère le pain à la pomme je préfère le pain au jambon je préfère les chats aux chiens
Thanks for the fast reply. I didn't realize the male category was more generic than the female category - is that generally so in French? Maybe it's like Spanish where you use male plural if there's a mix of males and females? So 'chatte' translates roughly to 'female cat', whereas 'chat' translates to 'cat' - not 'male cat' neccessarily?
When you have a group of cats (females and males - or you just don't know), you just say "chats". Like in Spanish it is always the case that masculine genders are used for all masculine or a mix. That is a convenient "convention" and maybe not that sexist, because it also applies to inanimate objects :
- le manteau et la robe sont chauds (masculine plural)
Just a further clarification because I have noticed some confusion among some people who are learning French after having learned Spanish. It's true that French and Spanish are similar in the situation you describe. However, the two languages differ when talking about mixed gender family members. For example, in Spanish, "mis hijos" corresponds to either "mes fils" or "mes enfants"; "mis hermanos" corresponds to either "mes frères" or "mon frère et ma soeur"; "mis padres" means "mes parents" (not necessarily a gay couple!); etc.
It means something like "I prefer the cats on the dogs", as opposed to the cats that are not on dogs! Another way of saying it in English is "I prefer cats to dogs" and since one of the meanings of « à » is "to", that makes « aux chiens » a direct translation. Remember that you often can't translate literally word-for-word, you often have to change the word because it doesn't have the same meaning in that sentence.