Saturday, June 23, 2007

Using “Had Better”

Most English grammar resources list “had better” with modals. Technically, it’s not a modal but acts very much like one. When I teach modals to my ESL students, I always include “had better” in the lessons.

The important thing I’ve noticed about students who already use this “false modal” is that they use it interchangeably with “should.” Instead of saying, “You should brush your teeth every day.” They will say, “You had better brush your teeth every day.” The difference between “had better” and “should” may not make a big difference when talking about brushing one’s teeth, but the impact may be different if a supervisor says, “You should take an English class,” or “You had better take an English class.”

“Should” is advice. “Had better” is a very strong recommendation with the threat of a serious consequence. It’s almost as if the speaker is saying “or else” at the end of a sentence. For example, “You had better take an English class or else you will lose your job.”


No comments: