Ought to and Had Better

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

"Ought to and Had Better" in English Grammar

Ought to and Had Better

'Ought to' and 'had better' are both semi-modal verbs in English that are used to express obligation or give advice. Both 'ought to' and 'had better' are similar in meaning to 'should', but they are considered more formal and less common in everyday conversation. It is important to note that 'had better' is typically used to talk about a present or future situation, while 'ought to' can also be used to talk about past situations.

Ought to

'Ought to' is considered a semi-modal verb because, although it shares some characteristics with modal verbs, it also functions as a regular verb in some respects.
Like modal verbs, it is often followed by the base form of the verb and it has the same form for all persons. However, unlike modal verbs, "ought to" is followed by the particle "to," which is not used with modal verbs. 'Ought to' is commonly used to:

Expressing Obligation and Necessity

'Ought to' can be used to express a moral, ethical, or social obligation or duty. For example:

You ought to help your neighbor in need.

You ought to pay your bills on time.

Should or Ought to?

To indicate that something 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.

Expressing Obligation and Necessity in the Past

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

You ought to have been more careful.

You ought to have listened to your teacher.

Indicate Expectation

using 'ought to' to talk about expectation

'Ought to' can be used to express expectations or predictions about what is likely to happen in the future. For example:

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.

Give Advice or Recommendation

'Ought to' can be used to give advice or make suggestions. For example:

You ought to watch this movie. It's great.

In this case, the speaker is giving recommendation.

The restaurant has the best food in town. You ought to try it.

Expressing Probability

'Ought to' can also be used to make a deduction or draw a conclusion about the probability of something based on available evidence.

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

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

Forming 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 I to buy this shirt?''

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

Had Better

'Had better' is a semi-modal verb phrase that is used to give advice or a warning about a potential outcome or consequence. It is often used to suggest that someone should take a particular action in order to avoid a negative consequence or to achieve a desired outcome.

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

You'd better not do that again.

As you can see, 'had better' can be used to form negative statements by adding 'not' after it.

'Had better' is similar in meaning to 'should' but it generally implies a stronger sense of urgency or importance. Also, it is important to note that 'had better' is often used in informal or spoken language. It is commonly used to:

  1. Give advice
  2. Express urgency
  3. Make a suggestion
  4. Giving Commands

Giving Advice

'Had better' is often used to give advice or make suggestions about what someone should do in order to avoid negative consequences or achieve a desired outcome. For example:

You had better study hard if you want to pass the test.

You had better not skip your appointment with the doctor, or your condition could get worse.

Expressing Urgency

'Had better' can be used to express a sense of urgency or importance in a particular situation. For example:

We had better leave now if we want to catch the last train.

Making a Suggestion

'Had better' can be used to make a suggestion or recommendation about what someone should do in a particular situation. For example:

You had better take an umbrella with you, as it's going to rain later.

Giving Commands

'Had better' is used to give a command or directive to the listener. The use of 'had better' implies that there may be negative consequences if the listener fails to follow the command.
It's important to note that commands with 'had better' are often used in informal or spoken language, and they can come across as forceful or confrontational if used inappropriately. Pay attention to the example:

You had better finish your homework before you go out with your friends.

To form a question with 'had better', you simply invert the subject and the auxiliary verb "had". Although, questions with 'had better' are not very common in English, and they are often used to express surprise or disbelief, rather than to ask for information.

Hadn't he better be on time for the meeting?

Here, 'hadn't' is the contracted form of 'had not'.


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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