Ought To vs. Had Better

'Ought to' and 'had better' may confuse learners as they both express obligations. In this lesson, we will learn when to use each.

"Ought To" vs. "Had Better" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between 'ought to' and 'had better' is that 'ought to' is a semi-modal verb, and 'had better' is a phrase.

Ought to

'Ought to' is a semi-modal verb because sometimes it behaves like a modal verb, and sometimes it acts like a main verb. It expresses obligations. For instance:

I ought to change my username.

They ought to turn in their documents to the authorities.

Had better

'Had better' is a phrase; however, some count it as 'semi-modal verb.'
'Had better' is used to say what is the best thing to do. It is mainly used in its contracted form. It is often used to give warnings.

You'd better turn in your assignment before it is too late.

They had better not be in trouble.

Similarity

Talking about Obligations

'Ought to' and 'had better' talk about obligations on different levels.

  • 'Ought to' expresses absolute obligations. If such obligations are unfulfilled, they may lead to penalties or punishments. 'Ought to' is highly uncommon and is mainly replaced by 'must.'

You ought to keep out of the danger zone.

You ought to clean your room.

  • 'Had better' is used to express a lower level of obligations that may not have been set as a law in society but are mainly common sense.

You'd better get home; it is getting dark out there.

She'd better keep the music volume low.

Differences

Talking about The Best Things to Do

We mainly use 'had better' to talk about the best thing to do. This is primarily used to show warnings. For example:

He'd better keep away from the danger zone.

She'd better be on her way home.

Advice

We use 'ought to' to give advice. Advice is what we think is the right thing to do. Have a look:

You ought to watch this tv series.

He ought to give out more resumes.

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