Ought to and Had Better

'Ought to' and 'Had Better' are used for giving advice and recommendations. These are used differently and can mean different things. Start learning!

Ought to and Had Better in English Grammar

Ought to and Had Better

'Ought to' is a semi-modal verb and 'had better' is a phrase that is used to talk about obligations.

Ought to

'Ought to' is a semi-modal verb, because in some aspects it behaves like a modal verb and in some aspects like a main verb. For example, unlike modal verbs, it is followed by to, but like modal verbs, it has the same form for all the persons. Its uses are:

  1. obligation and necessity
  2. expectation
  3. giving advice or recommendation
  4. probability

Obligation and Necessity

'Ought to' is used to talk about what is the right thing to do.

You ought to study for your exam.

Should or Ought to?

For expressing something that is the best thing or right thing to do, you can use both 'should' and 'ought to'. The difference is that 'should' is more common in spoken English.

Obligation and Necessity in the Past

You can talk about obligations or the right things to do in the past by using 'ought to have' + 'past participle'.

You ought to have been more careful.

Expectation

'Ought to' is used to say what you expect to happen in the future or what you would like to happen.

Babies ought to be able to talk by the age of 1.

In this sentence, babies are expected to talk by the age of 1.

Teachers ought to earn more.

In this sentence the speaker would like teachers to earn more.

Advice or Recommendation

You can use 'ought to' to give advice or recommendation.

This is great. You ought to watch this movie.

In this case, we are giving recommendation.

Probability

'Ought to' can also be used to say what is probably true or what has probably happened.

If she left at 11 o'clock, she ought to be here by now.

Here we mean; If she left at 11 o'clock, she probably should be here by now.

That ought to be enough food for the four of us.

Questions

If you want to form a question, it is more common to use 'should' instead of 'ought to'.

Should I buy this shirt?

Remember, it is not common to say; ''ought to I buy this shirt?''

Oughtn't the food to have been ready by now?

Had Better

'Had better' is an expression of the verb 'had' and is treated as a modal verb or as some would classify a 'semi-modal verb'.
'Had better' is used to say what is the best thing to do in a situation that is happening now.

You'd better hurry or you'll be late.

You'd better not do that again.

Review

As you know the term 'ought to' behaves as a semi-modal and the phrase 'had better' is an expression. But both have particular functions which were discussed clearly in the article. Since learning is easier and faster by learning and memorizing the examples; let us have some examples here.

ought to
obligation and necessity You ought to wash your face when you get up , kid!
expectation You ought to be tired after all that swimming
giving advice or recommendation We ought to try Chinese food.
probability My mother ought to be at work. It is Wednesday 11:30 am.
had better
What is the best thing to do You'd better stay away from the dog, it seems angry.

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