Tag Archives: had better

‘Had better’ plus verb

By Mary Morel

Had better

Reader’s question: I don’t understand the grammar behind the expression ‘He’d better clean up his room’ or ‘She’d better ring me before tomorrow’.

I am told it stands for ‘He had better clean up his room’/‘She had better ring me before tomorrow’.

But how can we use the present tense together with had? Or is this just colloquial?

Answer: I can’t work out any rational reason for this so I assume it is an idiomatic expression. And, you are right, it is often abbreviated (he’d better).

We use had better plus the infinitive without to (called the bare infinitive) to give advice about the present or future. The had in this usage is an unreal past.

Had better is often more threatening in tone than should or ought to. Compare:

  • He’d better be on time.
  • He should be on time.
  • He ought to be on time.

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