Ought to and Had Better for intermediate learners

'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

What Are Ought to and Had Better?

'Ought to' and 'had better' are two semi-modal verbs in English grammar. This pair of verbs are common among native speakers and are used in different contexts, but they are also a little bit tricky. Make sure to study them carefully.


As it was mentioned above, these two are semi-modal verbs. These kinds of verbs are sometimes used as modal verbs and other times used as the main verbs in statements.


Be careful that only because of 'to' in 'ought to' and 'better' in 'had better' these verbs are called semi-modals. They have all the other characteristics of modal verbs and are never used without the main verb in sentences. Study the following examples carefully:

She needs to be here on time.

She needs clothes. (The main verb)

You'd better study hard. (Not you'd better hard)

He ought to care for his parents more. (Not he ought to his parents)

Just like other modal verbs, this pair is used with the simple form of the verb in statements. Look at the examples below:

I'd better clean my clothes today, or I will get fired.

Here as you can see, ('d better) is the short form of 'had better'.

They'd better leave the office quickly then.

She ought to pour me a cup of coffee right now.

We ought to study for our next exam tomorrow.

As you can see, 'ought' always comes with the preposition 'to'.

These two can also be used in negative statements and questions. However, 'should' is more frequently used in such forms. Study the following examples carefully.

She ought not to come late today.

As you can see, not comes between 'ought' and 'to.

They ought not to swim in the lake at night.

In informal conversations 'oughtn't to' is used, but never in formal, written English.

He'd better not leave the house at noon.

We'd better not say anything right now.

Pay attention to the question form of these semi-modal verbs:

Ought she to write a letter to her mother?

Ought you to go to university now?

Had you better take an exam tonight?

Here, pay attention to where the subject and the modal verb are placed.

Had she better wake up early today?


These two semi-modal verbs are used in contexts as listed below:

  • Recommendation and Giving Advice in Specific Situations
  • Expectation


Another use of 'ought to' is to show the likelihood or probability of an even in the present or in the near future. Pay attention to the example below:

With all this fog, it ought to rain today.

Here the sentence shows that with such weather, it will probably rain.

Recommendation and Giving Advice in Specific Situations

This pair of semi-modals is mainly used when we want to recommend someone to do something or give someone a simple piece of advice. Study the following examples carefully:

You ought to eat more; it's better for your physical and mental stability.

As you can see, there is no force. He/she can make a choice to do it or not to do it.

She ought not to make any more mistakes in front of her boss.

They'd better take a nap in the evening.

I'd better study harder or I'll mess up the next interview, too.


Sometimes, 'ought to' is used to show obligation and that something must be done. Remember not to use 'had better' in such cases. Look at the example below:

She ought to study to get her professor's permission.

As you can see, the sentence shows that it is a necessity for her to study.


Another use of this pair of semi-modals can be expecting something from someone or desiring a result now or in the near future. Pay attention to the following examples:

She'd better be here before her boss gets angrier.

They'd better leave quickly or they will miss the train.

It ought to rain tonight or we'll soon be exposed to draught.

He ought to talk less than that in the company of the mayor.

As you can see, if the desired result is not achieved, there will be negative consequences.


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