Semi-modal verbs – had better

Probably one of the more unusual semi-modal verbs is “had better”. While it follows the rules of normal modal verbs, this one is the only one that comprises a verb in the past tense (which stays the same for all tenses) and an adverb.

You can use it for a variety of things, such as giving warnings and advice, making suggestions and recommendations. You can also say that someone should do something or something is worth doing in a situation.

He had better go home before he falls asleep!

Giving advice/warning

If you want to be on time, you had better wake up early tomorrow.

Making a recommendation

As you can see from the previous two examples, “had better” is always written that way. It does not change, regardless of the tense of the sentence. To show the tense, a time marker is added, such as “tomorrow”, “yesterday”, “after 8PM”, etc.

You can also contract “had better” with pronouns. For example, you can create “I’d better”, “you’d better”, “he/she/it’d better”, “we’d better” and “they’d better”.

There is another interesting feature that this semi-modal has that other modal verbs don’t. In many dialects of English, “had better” is just “better”. For example, the main image is RuPaul saying “You better work”. This is a shorter version of “You had better work”. This is true of several dialects in a range of English-speaking countries.

Want to learn more about semi-modal verbs? Here is a guide to all the semi-modal verbs: an introduction to semi-modal verbs. You can also learn more about other English language information on my English Language Materials page.

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